In June, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the state of Colorado violated the Free Exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment when it punished Christian baker James Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop for refusing to bake a custom cake to celebrate a gay couple’s wedding. It has taken me some time to sort out my thoughts on this.
First, let me say clearly that I am not claiming to speak for Christians or LGBTQ activists, Republicans or Democrats, business owners or consumers. Politically, I’m inclined toward Libertarians but my thoughts here are strictly my own.
In looking at things, I frequently try very hard to see the situation from a different perspective. In this case, I wonder what would happen if the key players were changed. “Halal” is the Arabic word that essentially means “permitted.” So Halal food is simply food that is permissible under Muslim Sharia law. Zamzam Halal International Market & Deli is just a few miles away from the bakery that is the centerpiece of the legal battle. Now suppose I walked into the Zamzam Deli and asked for pork tenderloin. Obviously, they would refuse. Would I have the right to sue them? They served others with different requests, but denied mine on religious grounds.
What’s the difference? Well first, straight white males aren’t a protected group like gays. Second, Muslims are largely (if unofficially) protected and Christians are fair game.
The Supreme Court crossed the political ideologies that lead to so many 5-4 rulings and voted 7-2 against the state of Colorado. In a summary of their opinion they said, “The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.”
As someone with Libertarian inclinations who has owned several small businesses, I see two factors here. First, if I start a business I don’t want the government interfering with my decisions about who I do business with. That should be my prerogative. Second, however, if I deliberately alienate an entire section of the population I will lose not only their business but all of the people who sympathize with them. People can—and should—vote with their wallets, by doing business with those with whom they feel most comfortable. In other words, I support the bakery’s right to design only the kinds of cakes they want, and I support the right of the LGBTQ community and their sympathizers to boycott (not attack) that bakery. But there must be limits to this line of thought.
In this case, I don’t see any real harm to the customers not given custom service. The truth is that there are many other bakeries in a small radius who were delighted to help them. To me, this feels more like a power play to force that one business to accept their point of view.
However, we live in an age of acceptance. If someone tried to open a restaurant for whites only today, they would lose not only the business of people of color, they would lose the business of the vast majority of the population (including me) because we stand against bigotry and don’t want to go to a place filled with bigots. On the other hand, if this was a time when most businesses were biased against any group, then there would be more tangible harm because that group’s access to the goods or services would be limited. That’s why the legal concept of protected groups must exist—though we may disagree on which groups deserve that status.
In this situation, I’m unhappy with two sides of the original case. I’m unhappy with Colorado trying to force people to violate their religious beliefs, and I’m unhappy with the couple who created a huge legal battle to try to force others to accept their beliefs. Liberals and conservatives, listen up: You can never force others to agree with you. You can certainly pass legislation to keep them from harming you, but please stop trying to insist that the whole world think the way you do. It isn’t going to happen, and you’re adding to the angry polarization in our country. When did we lose our ability to disagree, but still respect and love?