A number of religious freedom activists, political leaders and clergy spoke at a rally in Colorado Wednesday in defense of a Christian baker's right to act in accordance with his religious convictions and refuse to bake cakes for same-sex weddings.
Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute hosted a rally at its Lakewood campus in defense of Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who was punished by the state's civil rights commission in 2014 for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding and whose appeal will finally be heard by the United States Supreme Court next month after five years of litigation.
While almost all of the people who spoke at the rally were Christian, Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Yaakov Menken, the managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, also spoke and declared that Phillips has just as much right to refuse to create a cake for a ceremony that he feels violates his religious beliefs as Jews do to refuse to eat non-kosher food.
"Jack Phillips says that he can only celebrate unions that conform with his beliefs. That is a positive statement, not a negative one. That is not discrimination but discernment," Menken said. "[If you] refuse to prepare me a wedding cake because I am a Jew, that is bigotry. But if you can only celebrate a Southern Baptist marriage, I understand and respect your religion and I would never imagine that I could somehow coerce you to violate your precepts. That is called tolerance."
"I would point out that if Mr. Phillips were to offer me a cake when my children, God willing, reaches this milestone, I would say, 'Thank you very much, Jack. But, since you are not running a kosher bakery, I can't eat the cake,'" Menken continued. "My desire to keep kosher is in no way discriminatory to Mr. Phillips or anyone else; neither is his desire to honor his own faith."
Menken argued that lower courts have wrongfully defined religion as being limited to "how we worship" and that "there is no protection regarding how we act and what behaviors we support."
"If free exercise of religion means running off at the mouth, the Supreme Court says I am exercising. Need I tell you that this is dangerous to no one more than Jews because our religion is all about action," Menken said. "The way we tie our shoes in the morning is a religious act. The fact that we dress and look differently is exercise of our religion. We have a library of books on how to do business in accordance with our faith. Our legal codes tell us that we are to give up our life rather than to buckle to government pressure and change the color of our shoelaces."
In speaking about Phillips' case, Menken argued that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission has "decided to force Mr. Phillips to change the way he practices his religion or give up his business."
"If exercise of religion doesn't include exercise, then government can tell Jews whether we can do kosher slaughter," Menken stressed. "If you tell us that we have freedom of speech and freedom of worship but we cannot let religion guide how we do business, that is not religious freedom."
Menken added that "we Jews have seen this before," referencing governments that have tried to force people to follow "earlier versions of political correctness."
"What is new and foundly disturbing is the misuse of the language of civil rights to trample civil rights," Menken said.
Menken also spoke about the hypocrisy of some liberal media organizations that seemingly praised a gay coffee shop owner in Seattle, Washington, who kicked Christian pro-life activists from the group Abolish Human Abortion out of his shop last month.
Menken said that the group, which had been campaigning against abortion prior to coming to the shop, was denied service with "prejudice and profanity" even though they weren't disturbing anyone inside the shop.
"So let there be no doubt about what is really going on. The owner claimed that they were 'trying to stir up hate.' Their literature talked about human rights and targeted no one. The owner projected his own bigotry on to them to justify denying them their civil rights," Menken explained. "A writer for LGBTQ Nation said, 'Right-wing blogs are enraged that a gay coffeeshop owner kicked out a group of anti-choice religious nutjobs."
Menken also pointed to an article from Out.com that called the coffee shop owner "heroic" for denying the group service.
"That's right, it's not about tolerance. It's not about treating everyone with human dignity and it's certainly not about opposing discrimination," Menken contended. "On the contrary, the people who are doing this are not against the discrimination. Out.com celebrates bigotry and discrimination against people of faith. Yet, for some reason, we all know how far the members of Abolish Human Abortion would get if they decide to sue."
"Current environment is that only people of faith can be described as bigots. That is why this case is so important and why the wrong decision would be so dangerous," Menken stressed. "Because, the people who sued Jack Phillips are not opposed to discrimination but expert practitioners of the craft. And if they can do this to Christians, you can be darn well be sure they can do it to Jews."
Among others who spoke at the rally was Barronelle Stutzman, a Christian florist in Washington state who was punished for refusing to serve flowers to a same-sex wedding. Phillips was the last speaker to address the really.
Phillips told the rally that since this legal battle started over five years ago, he has lost over 40 percent of his business and many staff members.
"The bottom line is that tolerance should be a two-way street," Phillips said. "If we care about a free Colorado and a free America, then we should all be for the constitutional principle that no one should be forced to speak or promote a message with which they disagree. If the government can force me to create art that violates my faith, it can force you to express messages that violate the beliefs you hold."