Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Colorado Gay Wedding Cake Case
The day has arrived for Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips, whose case will finally be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday after he was punished by the state for refusing to serve the wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins.
The high court will hear oral arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that could go a long way in determining the limit of Christian wedding vendors' First Amendment protections.
In a case that pre-dates the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage in 2015, the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom will defend Phillips and argue that wedding cakes are equivalent to art and free expression and that their client has the right to refuse events that violate his convictions.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage, there has been much heated debate in the country surrounding the intersection of LGBT protections and the religious freedom of Christian conservatives.
Many conservative Christian leaders have considered this case to be one of the most important cases pertaining to religious freedom in over a decade.
Ronnie Floyd, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, told The Christian Post that he fears a ruling against Phillips could set a negative precedent on religious freedom rights for Christian professionals, even those outside of the wedding industry.
"As the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal noted, It could compel Catholic doctors to perform abortions or force Catholic adoptions services to place children with same-sex couples," Floyd, the pastor at Cross Church in Arkansas, said. "I think that is the far-reaching issue, whether it is Catholic or it's evangelical — those of us who have a deep belief in religious liberty and the sanctity of human life and those kind of matters. Where does it stop? That is extremely frightening."
"I don't think by any means that someone that did what Jack did should be discriminated against because he doesn't feel like he can in good conscience do that," Floyd added. "I just think that is a violation to his own personal commitment to what he believes is right relating to one of the great traditions of the Christian faith: family and marriage between a man and a woman. That is one of the core principles."
Some argue that Phillips should be required to make cakes for same-sex weddings because in this specific case he was not asked to travel to or attend the wedding ceremony as a part of the transaction because the wedding was in Massachusetts and the cake was for a wedding reception in Colorado.
"But even if the cake were to have been consumed at a wedding, Phillips' creation of the cake before the ceremony would not have constituted participation in any meaningful sense," conservative political commentator George F. Will wrote in an op-ed published by The Washington Post.
"Photography is inherently a creative, expressive art, so photographers have a strong case against compulsory documentation of ceremonies at which they must be present. Less clearly but plausibly, florists can claim aesthetic expression in floral arrangements, but their work is done before wedding ceremonies occur. Chauffeurs facilitate ceremonies, but First Amendment jurisprudence would become incoherent if it protected unwilling chauffeurs from their supposedly expressive participation in ceremonies to which they deliver actual participants."
Will asserted that he believes Phillips should "lose this case."
"A cake can be a medium for creativity; hence, in some not-too-expansive sense, it can be food for thought. However, it certainly, and primarily, is food," Will said. "And the creator's involvement with it ends when he sends it away to those who consume it."
In a response to Will, National Review columnist David French argued that wedding cakes are art.
"Who has ever said that a wedding cake was primarily food? No one wants the cake to taste like trash, but is that the reason that brides, moms, and wedding planners agonize over their cake choice? (Grooms are more likely to be indifferent.) No, they want the cake to be beautiful. They want it to be — dare I say it — a work of art," he wrote.
Carrie Severino, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and policy director at the Judicial Crisis Network, said in a statement that this case is not about "generic cake."
"This is not about a generic cake someone picks up at Costco. After all, Jack Phillips was willing to sell an off-the-shelf cake to the couple. But the government wanted to unconstitutionally force him to design a custom wedding cake that would promote a message in direct conflict with his conscience and deeply held religious beliefs, even when there were plenty of other businesses with no such conflict that were happy to bake that cake," she said. "The left will try to frame this case as an LBGTQ case but, at its core, it's about whether or not the government can force or compel an American citizen — protected by the First Amendment — to violate their religious convictions and their right to free speech."
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board published an op-ed on Sunday in support of Phillips that argued that the state of Colorado is doing what the Supreme Court said shouldn't be done — "demean" or "stigmatize" those with different morals.
"As Justice Kennedy noted in Obergefell, the 'Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,'" the WSJ op-ed concludes. "If this applies to same-sex marriage, which isn't mentioned in the Constitution, it certainly ought to apply to religious belief, which is there in black and white."
Although Will believes that Phillips should lose his case, he doesn't believe Phillips should have been subject to government punishment for what he did.
"Phillips ought to lose this case. But Craig and Mullins, who sought his punishment, have behaved abominably," Will contended. "To make his vocation compatible with his convictions and Colorado law, Phillips has stopped making wedding cakes, which was his principal pleasure and 40 percent of his business. He now has only four employees, down from 10. Craig and Mullins, who have caused him serious financial loss and emotional distress, might be feeling virtuous for having done so. But siccing the government on him was nasty."
"Denver has many bakers who, not having Phillips's scruples, would have unhesitatingly supplied the cake they desired. So it was not necessary for Craig's and Mullins' satisfaction as consumers to submit Phillips to government coercion. Evidently, however, it was necessary for their satisfaction as asserters of their rights as a same-sex couple," Will continued. "Phillips' obedience to his religious convictions neither expressed animus toward them nor injured them nor seriously inconvenienced them. Their side's sweeping victory in the struggle over gay rights has been decisive, and now less bullying and more magnanimity from the victors would be seemly."