The future of religious liberty
Eddie Damstra | Thursday, December 7, 2017
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the controversial case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case will determine whether a bakery owner has the right to refuse to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple. This case will result in one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in recent history. We will soon discover if the Supreme Court will uphold one of the most fundamental of all constitutional rights: the right to exercise one’s religion.
This case is not about the legality of discrimination against gay people, despite being posed as such by some. This case does not involve a baker refusing to sell a gay person a birthday cake or a blueberry muffin. In examples such as these, where a baker refuses service to an individual simply on the basis of the individual’s sexual orientation, it is rather apparent that the baker would be engaged in unjustifiable discrimination.
While it may seem that the case being brought to the Supreme Court is analogous to the above examples of discrimination, it is vital to highlight the core difference between such discriminatory cases and the case currently being litigated at the highest court in the land. This case does not involve a baker refusing service to gay individuals simply on the account of their sexual orientation. Rather, this case involves a baker refusing to offer his product to go towards a gay wedding. In this case, the baker is objecting to the gay wedding, not the gay individuals. The bakery owner, Jack Phillips, objects to a gay wedding because his Christian faith tells him that marriage is between one man and one woman.
Some people argue that making the aforementioned distinction between refusing service based on sexual orientation and refusing service based on religious objections to a gay wedding ceremony is splitting hairs. However, the distinction is not contrived or insignificant, but rather provably legitimate and substantial. In this case, the bakery owner offered to sell the gay couple any other baked good. He simply said he was unable to sell a gay wedding cake without violating the teachings of his religion on marriage and sexual activity. Thus, since the only deterrence to Phillips’ willingness to serve the couple was the fact that his product would go towards a gay wedding, it is obvious that the gay wedding itself is the very subject of his objection.
I do not expect the Supreme Court or the American populace at large to agree with the moral and religious beliefs of the bakery owner. It is undeniably true that selling a wedding cake to a gay couple would not violate the religious conscience of many people, even many Christians. However, the important reality is that there is a sect of the population, of which this bakery owner belongs to, whom hold fervent religious views that would lead to feelings of religious betrayal if they were to have their products included in a gay wedding ceremony.
One of the most frequent responses to the argument I have posited above is to suggest that utilizing the bakery owner’s first amendment right to abide by his Christian faith could be extended to defend atrocities such as the refusal to offer services to an interracial wedding. This response even appeared in Tuesday’s arguments in front of the Supreme Court. However, this argument has no validity because there is no reasonable religious objection to interracial marriage. One cannot claim an action to be an exercise of one’s religion if the action one is committing is entirely unreasonable and not legitimately tied to one’s religion. In other words, a Christian bakery owner would be unjustified in refusing service to an interracial wedding because there is no reasonable Christian objection to interracial marriage. The objection to provide services to an interracial wedding could only be explained as rooted in bigotry and racism, both of which should not be protected.
Interracial marriage and homosexual marriage are fundamentally different and hold fundamentally different footings in religion and society. Unlike interracial marriage, there are explicit and legitimate objections to homosexual marriage within Christianity, and nearly every other major religion for that matter.
The words “reasonable” and “legitimate” certainly possess a degree of subjectivity, but the very nature of judicial proceedings is grounded in dealing with rather subjective notions. With that said, I hope that the jurisprudence utilized in this Supreme Court case will correctly identify the bakery owner’s objection to making a gay wedding cake as reasonable and legitimate in the context of freedom of religion.
The Supreme Court should rule in favor of the Christian bakery owner. Every American should possess the right to reasonably abide by their legitimate religious convictions. Stripping Americans of this right is stripping individuals of the most fundamental of all constitutional rights and sets a dangerous path towards broad infringement on civil liberties.
Eddie is a junior majoring in economics and political science, with a minor in constitutional studies. He plans on attending law school after his time as an undergraduate at Notre Dame. He can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.