Most people have by now heard of the case of baker Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, Colo. He declined to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds of two First Amendment rights.
Mr. Phillips said he refused to make the cake, first, on the basis of his religious convictions. He also refuses to make custom Halloween cakes, based on his religious beliefs.
And his lawyers argue that if he is forced to make such a cake, that is compelled speech — the opposite of free speech.
BEHIND THE EDITORIAL: Masterpiece Cakeshop case highlights need for forbearance
But in today’s United States, one man’s freedom can be another’s discrimination. The couple whose cake order was refused filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the dispute has been litigated all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which has now heard oral arguments.
The legal and broader constitutional issues are not cut and dried. Would the cake requested really have been compelled speech? If you hire someone to make a sign, or a billboard, or a wedding video, isn’t the speech he conveys for you your speech?
And it’s not clear that the refusal was true discrimination. Mr. Phillips did not refuse service, he refused to make a particular product. Suppose he had refused based on shortage of time or help. Would it have been better for all parties, even better for our culture, if he had, dishonestly, refused the commission on those grounds?
The Court will thrash out the legal issues, and maybe even get them right.
But one cannot help feeling that the deeper questions here have to do with the kind of country we are becoming and the kind of country we really want to be.
We want to be a country that embraces two great values — two related things.
We want to be a country in which people are tolerant; in which people live and let live; in which many flowers bloom.
Tolerance is not a negative virtue. It is a positive one. And tolerance is not only a virtue. It is a practice, a habit of being.
Tolerance is a way of living together. It is based on empathy and respect. It is also the foundation of limits — your freedom ends where the other fellow’s nose begins.
And these limits include limits on the government. The government does not exist to make us well, or even morally better, but to enforce the limits.
Mary Torres of Falls Church, Va., left, holds a rolling pin up in support of cake artist Jack Phillips outside of the Supreme Court.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
Second, we want to be a country in which there is maximum personal freedom — a country in which individuals are free to work out their own destinies, opinions, and choices to the greatest extent possible.
Could the baker not have simply baked the cake, as a gesture of goodwill? Doing so would not have changed or diminished his own beliefs. Could he not have at least have said: That’s not quite my specialty, but I can recommend the following bakers?
Could the couple not have found another baker? Was it really necessary to sic Big Brother on a small bakery?
Big Brother surely did respond, as he will when citizens cannot settle conflict among themselves. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered Mr. Phillips to:
● Serve custom cakes to same-sex couples, contrary to his convictions.
● Provide “comprehensive staff training” regarding public accommodations and discrimination.
● Provide quarterly reports to the state detailing the shop’s compliance with state orders and documenting that it had not turned away same-sex couples.
All of this is both absurdist and Orwellian. And now we are preparing to make constitutional law on the matter of cake decoration.
We are forgetting how to live together. In the age of “diversity,” we have forgotten how to forbear. We have forgotten how to laugh at ourselves, and the limits of our own understanding and imaginations.
And our conflicts, complaints, knee-jerk sense of offense, and litigation are tearing us asunder.
Yet, when we consider the matter, most Americans want to live in a society of toleration.
An American should be able to legally marry the person he or she loves. He should also be able to bake, think, create, and craft as he likes, with the law and the state as an absolutely last resort.