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Religious Discrimination: Not Always A Piece of Cake
Religious Discrimination or Gender Discrimination?
We’ve all read about the baker or photographer who refused service to a gay wedding couple. In the battle of sincere beliefs of “right and wrong,” someone will get hurt. One such case will be decided in the 2017-18 term of the US Supreme Court.
A Colorado baker refused to prepare a wedding cake for a gay couple based on his religious belief that homosexual marriage is a sin, and he should not be forced to express consent to the marriage by he is preparing something. [the cake, and quite likely, the message written on the cake] wedding celebration. A Colorado court ruled in favor of the gay couple. The baker’s cake is now being served on appeal to the Supreme Court.
Religious Discrimination May Depends on How You Slice It.
Society’s view of the right of homosexuals to enter into same-sex marriage has shifted rapidly over the decade. This rate of cultural change is incredible. For example, California went from a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex people to forcing the State Supreme Court to allow such marriages. The US Supreme Court later ruled that the due process clause and the 14th amendment to the federal Constitution prevented States from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Obergefell v. Hodges576 US ___ (2015).
Is the wedding cake an expression of faith that, if forced, would be a violation of the baker’s religious freedom under the First Amendment? Justice William Brennan at Sherbert vs. Verner (1963) states: “The door to the Free Exercise Clause is firmly closed against any government regulation of religious beliefs. The government may not compel the affirmation of an abominable belief, nor punish or discriminate against individuals or groups because they hold religious views repugnant to the authorities, nor use the power of taxation to prevent the propagation of a particular which is a religious view.”
The Baker [Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado] says that he views the use of his cakes as messages, and that some messages violate his religious beliefs. He wrote: “And that rule applies to more than just cakes celebrating same-sex marriage. I will also not use my talents to celebrate Halloween, anti-American or anti-family themes, atheism, racism, or obscenity.” The Denver Post .
The photography and wedding cake cases are distinguished from overt homophobic bias by “expressive” writing messages and/or image projects. Businessmen who refuse to make these expressions do so because the expression is against their religious beliefs. Likewise, their religious beliefs are against those who are denied goods or services provided by businesses.
Religious Discrimination or Religious Freedom?: Difficult Questions for the Court.
Rights collide in a democratic society. The right to free speech collides with public safety when speech is certain to cause chaos and death to innocent people. The right to “bear arms” is limited by laws that require the registration of weapons after a background check. The current “wedding cake” dispute requires the court to balance two conflicting social values: the freedom to marry, and the freedom of religion.
The Supreme Court has once again placed itself in the role of umpire in a social conflict that raises many questions:
- Is the icing on the cake a form of government-forced expression that goes against the baker’s religious freedom?
- Is the icing on the cake the baker’s expression of approval of gay marriage, or just a detail of the product he provides to express to the buyer?
- Is the icing on the cake offending the baker until it is an attack on his religious beliefs?
- Is the icing on the cake easy to get from other bakers who don’t share the same religious convictions as Phillips?
- What religious beliefs deserve the protections of the First Amendment and what can be considered unconstitutional?
- What religious practices are determined in a free democratic society to be forms of illegal discrimination?
In answering these questions, the US Supreme Court must decide whether the icing on the cake is a form of expression that unduly restricts Phillips’ freedom of religion. Was Phillips right that he was forced to approve homosexual marriage by preparing a wedding cake? Does the act of applying a message to a cake he adopts the message as his own? Is his participation in cooking a ceremony that he finds offensive to his religious beliefs? Hatred and hatred seem to be in full supply on both sides of the case. When the Court makes the call, there is booing from one side or the other within the stadium of ideas.
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