I don’t know if you’ve been following the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit or the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in that matter yesterday—but we have. It’s the case of a religious man, a baker, who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.
At Tanenbaum, we see this case as raising core questions of our national identity. We actually filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court because this case challenges us to answer:
- How can we live respectfully and honor our differences as a religiously diverse country?
- What do we do, when core principles that guide us—like the right to freely practice our faith and the right to live and go into stores without suffering discrimination—clash?
- Where do we draw the line between a religious baker who objects to baking a cake based on his deeply held beliefs, and a gay couple protected by their state’s anti-discrimination laws when they want to purchase goods for their wedding?
In the decision, a majority of the Court agreed that the case presented difficult questions. Rather than answer those difficult questions, however, the Court focused on the conduct of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which it described as “inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality.” In fact, the Supreme Court held that their deliberations reflected “religious hostility” and were neither “tolerant nor respectful of” the baker’s religious beliefs.
By ruling that the underlying procedures were unfair and declining to reach the difficult questions, the Court put these foundational questions off for another day. But that is only one of The Five Key Takeaways from Masterpiece Cakeshop.
1. “IT’s not over”… The court’s ruling was narrow… the question of how to implement religious freedom when it results in not complying with anti-discrimination laws is yet to be determined.
2. YES! Those who implement the law must be neutral and practice respect (including respect for religion and diverse religious beliefs)! The principle behind the court’s narrow decision is spot on. Those who implement our laws must do so in an even-handed, neutral way and that means…they cannot demean / evidence bias against / or ridicule religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs) with which they disagree during a legal proceeding. And that principle applies both to regulatory commissioners and judges in our courts, whether they are secular or deeply religious.
3. The Court says the LGBTQI community deserves dignity…but members of that community still have to ask, “What happens when I get married?” Though the Masterpiece Court spoke of the critical need to respect LGBTQI people in the public square, there is now an aura of uncertainty for the gay community. Yes, they can legally marry. But they still have to ask: “Will I be able to purchase the wedding cake, flowers, or hire the best photographer in town?” AND, “Will I be able to adopt a child?”
4. The U.S. Supreme Court mandates tolerance in the application of the law, religious freedom, and in our treatment of the gay community—but what do we really mean by tolerance? The Court tells us what it doesn’t look like. But what does it look like? And how do we put it into practice?
5. The Supreme Court has a critical role to play in how our country moves forward. Objections to providing services based on religious beliefs can have long-term implications for religious freedom—and whether it survives for all of us. Freedom of religion is preserved in the First Amendment. To put it into practice, however, we rely on anti-discrimination laws that require people to provide goods and services no matter someone’s religion. Those same anti-discrimination laws also protect people against racial bias, age discrimination, bias based on ability status, and in some states, bigotry based on sexual orientation. If the religious beliefs of someone choosing to serve the public are legally able to undo these laws when it comes to a person’s sexual orientation, why can’t those same religious beliefs allow for discrimination based on a customer’s religious or non-religious beliefs? Why couldn’t a baker refuse to bake a cake for an interfaith couple, because one of them was Jewish and her Christian partner might be led astray? Or because the couple were atheists? Muslims? Sikhs?
So where does the ruling leave us, as a country? That, my friends, is up to us.
Joyce S. Dubensky
Photo credit: AP