Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case about the baker who refused, on religious grounds, to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple.
Amy Howe over at SCOTUSblog did an excellent analysis of yesterday's questioning from the Supremes. She believes the court will split (again) 5-4 in favor of the baker but wonders just how narrowly they will craft the opinion. She based her analysis on the change in tone of Justice Kennedy's questions from start to finish.
First, I must point out, once again, that religious belief is still the most popular justification for discrimination. Now I could go on and on quoting portions of the Bible in which Jesus preaches a message of equality and love and brotherhood. But I'm not.
Jack Phillips likes to call himself a christian. But he believes that the holy word gives him the right to discriminate against those whom he doesn't like. The latter day charlatans who preach that homosexuality is a sin worse than any other act like they are quoting the word of god when they launch into their hateful spiel. The only problem is the book they are quoting from has been translated countless times from multiple languages. There's no guarantee that the words they are quoting in 2017 are the same words written in the original texts.
But we digress.
The issue is whether a privately run business has the right to decide whom they wish to provide with services. This is different from the argument in the 1960's that private buses, trains, hotels and restaurants were public carriers. Mr. Phillips claims that forcing him to make a cake for a same sex wedding would somehow violate his right to free speech. I'm not really buying that one because food is not speech. Food is food and food is for eating.
Does requiring him to bake the cake violate his right to freedom of religion? As far as I can tell, no one is telling him what to believe or how to do it. However, would requiring him to bake the cake trample upon his right to the free exercise of his religion? That is a much closer question, I think.
What does it mean to exercise one's religion? Baking and selling cakes is a commercial enterprise, not a religious one. Maybe he says he's spreading the word of god by baking cakes - but is that exercising one's religion?
And what if in exercising that religion a person, or entity, intentionally discriminates against another based upon that person's race, sex, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation?
And, as an aside, at what point do we finally acknowledge that religion serves more to divide us than to unite us? White protestant churches were very prominent in the fight to preserve Jim Crow segregation in the South. All of the major protestant denominations split in the 19th century over the question of slavery.
Back in college I took a class on sociology and religion and our professor played for us a recording of an Emo Philips routine that I have looked for off and on for years -- and finally found it.
There are some serious issues that need to be addressed in this case. The Court must decide how much discrimination in private commercial enterprises is acceptable. If the Court decides it is acceptable then the Court must decide whether the enterprise wishing to discriminate must give a reason for its choice. If so, the Court must decide where to draw the line for a legally valid rationale for discrimination. Finally, the Court must decide which groups can be discriminated against for which reasons. It remains to be seen whether the Court will develop a balancing test to determine how large a community has to be in order to permit discrimination.
Regardless of the decision, the law of the land will most likely be determined by the vote of one justice - Anthony Kennedy. Not quite what the Founding Fathers had in mind, I daresay.