This week, Christian baker Jack Phillips won the narrowest of victories at the Supreme Court when seven justices sided with him in a case involving a Colorado private sector nondiscrimination law.
As many commentators have noted, the court seems to have dodged the Big Question at the heart of the matter — whether private sector nondiscrimination laws can be used to compel artisans to create messages that they object to. In one of the greatest cop-outs of all time the court ruled in Phillips’s favor only because members of the Colorado “Civil Rights” Commission (chortle) displayed clear bias against his religion.
“The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”
And that’s an understatement. One commissioner, Diann Rice, argued during a commission meeting in 2014:
Freedom of religion and religion has [sic] been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust. I mean, we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use – to use their religion to hurt others.
Actually, no they were not. The National Socialists (Nazis) did not kill Jews because of some religious duty. The National Socialist tyranny, which tolerated religion only begrudgingly and only in its early days, did not care if a Jew gave up his religion because they hated Jews as a race. For that matter, the Nazis tossed more than a few Catholic priests in their concentration camps for refusing to bend a knee to their worldly authority. The Nazis were opponents of both religious freedom and religion generally.
If the Holocaust teaches us a lesson, it’s about state power and the suppression of dissent, not that religious freedom is dangerous.
And make no mistake about it, Diann Rice is terrified of religious freedom. When arguments like hers are advanced, we’re no longer having a conversation about what religious freedom means but rather whether it should exist. From her comments I can only conclude that she sees religious freedom as a menace. Such an attitude ought to disqualify her from sitting on any kind of “civil rights” commission. She is an enemy of the first amendment.
In a way, this supposedly groundbreaking decision was anticlimactic. Government bureaucrats will continue to use these abominable laws as weapons against people of faith, they’ll just be more circumspect in their remarks. No more comparing peaceful noninterference in someone else’s wedding to the slaughter of eleven million innocents. No more berating the victims of these laws as religious bigots. They’ll even pretend, as Diann Rice didn’t, to respect religion and the free exercise thereof.
But nothing will really change.
Why? Because these laws do not impinge on free exercise and free speech rights by happenstance. This is not like a Muslim woman claiming that she’s been discriminated against because she can’t board a plane while wearing a veil over her face. This is targeted retribution against people who harbor views that are disfavored by the state.
Which is what the First Amendment was designed to protect us from. If it fails us now, it’s worthless.
When the government uses laws to target certain groups of people, it is treading on constitutional thin ice. Liberals seem to understand this. which explains why they constantly argue that perfectly reasonable laws that seem neutral on their face are in fact discriminatory. These laws disproportionately impact one group or another — but usually blacks. The reason for this, of course, is that blacks offend nearly all laws at higher rates than the general population.
Nonetheless, liberals see discrimination hiding behind every law. Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, for example, recently announced that his office will no longer prosecute possession of small quantities of marijuana because that’s raaaacist! In 2016, Gotham also “decriminalized” littering and public urination because those laws are racist too.
Any law that liberals don’t like is immediately attacked as discriminatory. Felon disenfranchisement laws, literacy tests, mandatory minimum sentences, even laws against loitering. An Obama-appointed federal judge recently found Texas’s voter ID law to be racist in intent and effect. How the court discerned the intent is very much unclear because there was no smoking gun. If it feels racist it must have been intended as racist.
The voter ID case raises some interesting questions. Is a law’s effect on one group sufficient to strike it down? Or is intent required too? If the effect is so manifest that it can’t be denied, can intent be inferred as the judge in the voter ID law case appeared to do?
I ask these questions because the law that Jack Phillips just beat in court is actually biased in effect and intent. The impact here does not just fall “disproportionately” on people of faith; it falls exclusively on us! While liberals may pretend not to detect the bias inherent in this law, I suspect that they really just love the discriminatory effect too much to part with it.
There’s some evidence that Jack Phillips’s business was targeted precisely because he was known around town as a deeply religious man. Much like Hobby Lobby, faith was integral to his business’s brand. Phillips had previously declined orders for Halloween-themed baked goods, divorce parties, and bachelor parties.
Then one day in 2012, Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig entered the shop and tried to order a wedding cake, which was a strange request considering the fact that they were actually having their ceremony 2000 miles away in Provincetown, Mass. They later claimed that they wanted a pre-wedding party locally, though I suspect that all they really wanted was to provoke a fight.
Jack Phillips, who mistakenly believed that he lived in a free country that respected its citizens’ rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, thought that he could decline this order just as he had other orders in the past. By Mullins’s own admission, he exploded in anger, shouting “F*ck you and your homophobic cake shop!” He thinks he may have flipped Phillips the bird though he can’t be sure.
And we’re supposed to believe that this was about equal access to goods and services.
There were plenty of other bakeries that would have gladly accepted their money. Phillips’s rights should not hinge on this fact but it happens to be true. These men didn’t want a cake, they wanted to find a Christian and ruin him.
But that’s not all they wanted. Laws have the ability to change hearts and minds — and not always gently. I don’t like this aspect of laws, of course, because I am extremely wary of governments sanctioning official beliefs and punishing all others.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, for example, wrote a column in 2015 in which he expressed his view that church leaders need to face pressure to “take homosexuality off the sin list.” (Note to Bruni: Only God can do that.) What’s worse is the context of Bruni’s column: He was writing about the controversy surrounding Indiana’s religious freedom law, which he opposed. Clearly, he doesn’t like laws that might protect Christians from the legal pressure he wants to put on them to change their beliefs and eventually to change their churches’ doctrines.
I should really thank Bruni for his candor because he said what defenders of Colorado’s law wouldn’t dare say in court. The reason we have these laws is because society is in the midst of a revolutionary change and there can be no hold-outs. Government must lend a hand in corralling the last straggling institution: the church.
Government has no business trying to change religious doctrine, not even by proxy. But that’s what it’s doing. It sees Big Religion as the last citadel of “homophobia,” an odious ideology that must be stamped out. They intend to achieve this by forcing Christians to make small compromises with their faith until they fully accept the homosexual agenda. Severe governmental penalties, including the loss of livelihood, have a tendency to make people rethink their core beliefs. This change in the individual Christians’ minds will put pressure on the churches to “take homosexuality off the sin list.”
And that’s why these laws offend the First Amendment — not to mention the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. Though the Supreme Court was too cowardly to decree it, there’s nothing neutral about “sexual orientation” nondiscrimination ordinances.
I’m happy that Jack Phillips was able to hold out against his tormentors, but the rest of may not be so lucky because the state is on the tormentors’ side. Be forewarned: This fight isn’t over.