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Cake-shop decision is about broad liberties

Your Turn

Kate Anderson Guest columnist

The U.S. Supreme Court has now issued its decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission , a case some have called one of the most important religious-liberty cases to come before the court in decades.

But to think of it only as a “religious liberty” case is to miss the point. This isn’t just about religious liberty. It’s about liberty itself.

This case started back in 2012, when Jack Phillips, a cake artist in the Greater Denver area, respectfully explained to a same-sex couple that while he would gladly sell them anything in the shop, he was unable to create a custom cake for their coming wedding. Jack happily serves anyone who walks into his shop; with his signature smile, he’ll sell a cake, a brownie or a box of cookies to anyone.

What Jack can’t do is use his creative talents to express messages or celebrate events that contradict his religious beliefs.

It’s always been this way for Jack. Ever since he opened Masterpiece Cakeshop, he has declined requests to create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with his beliefs.

Jack does not, for example, create Halloween cakes. Nor does he design cakes for bachelor parties with messages that demean women.

He’ll happily sell a premade cake for the party, but because of his beliefs about the dignity of all human beings, he won’t make art that demeans people.

Like billions of people around the world from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faith backgrounds, Jack believes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

This belief doesn’t keep him from designing custom cakes for people in the LGBT community. It simply means that to live in harmony with his conscience, Jack cannot craft a custom cake that celebrates a view of marriage in conflict with his beliefs.

That gets to the heart of Jack’s case: Everyone who creates art, if they sat down and thought about it, would identify messages that they are unwilling to express or events that they are unable to celebrate. Those objections will be different for different people. But the value of living in a free and diverse society is that the same freedoms belong to all of us. The government shouldn’t be excluding and punishing artists or anyone else because of unpopular religious beliefs.

So when the Supreme Court said in its ruling in Jack’s case that “the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality,” that should be encouraging to everybody ... not just to Jack.

The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee freedom only for people who agree with the government — and that’s a good thing, because governments change and so do their views on nearly every topic. The real guarantee of the amendment is that people of all faiths should have the freedom to live out their beliefs without being targeted for punishment by the government.

So, a win for Jack is, literally, a win for everybody — especially anyone who has ever considered what it might mean to hold beliefs that the government or the majority opposes. For those people with marginalized views, this decision is a happy reminder that even if their neighbors malign them, their government cannot single them out for unjust treatment.

Kate Anderson is legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop. Share your thoughts at media@adflegal.org.

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