The Religious vs Gays – Who’s Constitutional Rights Matter Most?

America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. What’s the phrase mean to you?

To me it means every American who is brave enough to follow their dreams and find their own niche in life is free to live as they choose – according to their own principles – as long as they don’t harm others or break the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to take up a Colorado case in which both sides say their separate constitutional rights were violated. It raises the question: who’s constitutionally guaranteed rights matter most?

Here’s the dispute in a nutshell:  In 2012, Charles Craig and David Mullins wanted a special cake to mark their marriage so they visited the Masterpiece Cake Shop in Lakewood, Colorado. The owner, an artistically gifted and religious man named Jack Phillips, politely said, “I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, cookies, brownies … I just can’t make a cake for a same-sex wedding.” Doing so, he said, would violate his bible-based beliefs.

The aggrieved couple filed a complaint with the state’s civil rights commission. They argued that Phillip’s slight wasn’t just about a cake. In the words of Mr. Craig, “It is about discrimination. He simply turned us away because of who we are.”

The commission ruled the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law which says businesses may not deny service based on a customer’s race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Phillips was ordered to provide wedding cakes on an “equal basis.” In other words, to any customer who could pay for one.

Then, the Colorado Court of Appeals also ruled against Masterpiece Cakes.

Phillips, who’s been described as a “cake artist” and his shop as an “art gallery of cakes” took a financial hit and simply stopped creating his popular wedding cake creations. And, he appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court believing his constitutional rights of freedom of religion and free speech were as equally important as the couple’s.

As Phillips wrote in an impassioned letter to the Denver Post, “There is no policy at my shop, real or imagined, that says, ‘We don’t sell cakes to homosexuals.’” Phillips said he will sell any cake in his display case to anyone who asks but, “I won’t design a cake that promotes something that conflicts with the Bible’s teachings. And that rule applies to far more than cakes celebrating same-sex marriages. I also won’t use my talents to celebrate Halloween, anti-American or anti-family themes, atheism, racism, or indecency.”

In other words, don’t come to Phillips looking for one of those an anatomically correct gag-gift cakes for a bachelorette party. The man, clearly, has a set of principals he lives by.

It should be noted here that in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage. Even before that, the state of Colorado had passed several laws legalizing and protecting those in same-sex unions. So, the Craig-Mullins couple seems to stand on solid legal ground, right?

But, wait a minute. Don’t laws that protect the couple also punish the sizable portion of the population that tries to live their lives as the bible instructs, those religious citizens whose faith prevents them from embracing birth control, abortion, the death penalty and , yes, same-sex marriage?

“That’s not just my government telling me what I can and can’t do,” Phillips has said. “That’s my government telling me what I can and can’t believe. They’re treading way beyond my cake shop — and deep into my soul.”

I can certainly empathize with a couple who wants to celebrate their happiness with a special dessert and then has their hopes dashed. But I can also sympathize with a hard-working entrepreneur who tries to live a faith-filled life.

As the highest court in the land considers this case of competing constitutional rights it’s a good time for the rest of us to ponder the underlying issues of individual choice, freedom of opinion and the common-sense idea of real and lasting harm done versus a perceived harm.

I know what the law says, but there is a flaw if one person’s constitutional rights are deemed less important than another’s.

I’m thinking there were lots of other bakeries available to the Craig-Mullins couple to get what they wanted. And Mr. Phillips sees only one suitable path in life to walk if he wants to keep his principles intact. It makes me wonder if we will ever reach a point in this country where adversaries amiably agree to disagree and walk away without calling a lawyer.




  1. Diane Dimond on September 27, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Facebook Friend Carol Garland writes:

    You cannot ever have a right to the labor of another person.

  2. Diane Dimond on September 27, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Facebook Friend Cliff Darnell writes:

    Christ you know it ain’t easy.They could of and should of bought one out of his Windows or if they wanted a special design gone elsewhere

    • Diane Dimond on September 27, 2017 at 9:41 am

      Facebook Friend Lyn Novosel replies:

      They could have and should have….

  3. Diane Dimond on September 27, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Facebook Friend Anne Kass writes:
    >>” I’m thinking there were lots of other bakeries available to the Craig-Mullins couple to get what they wanted. And Mr. Phillips sees only one suitable path in life to walk if he wants to keep his principles intact.”..>>
    What about the path for Mr. Phillips to not run a business open to the public? It’ is another path to the “only one” you report he sees. People can follow any religious beliefs they want, and if Mr. Phillips’ bakery were part of a church with all proceeds going to it, I think he’d be able to walk his path with his principles intact, except maybe the principle that is connected to interest and profit.

  4. Diane Dimond on September 27, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Noozhawk Reader jamesgd writes:

    there is no constitutional right to violate the civil rights act. you can sell cakes in a private club and discriminate against gays, blacks, etc. all you want. if youre a business thats “open to the public” however, youd better mean it.

  5. Diane Dimond on September 27, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Florida Times Union Reader Robert ( Rob ) E. Richardson, Jr. writes:

    I regularly read your column in the Florida Times Union. Today’s was Why force a baker? It is refreshingly straightforward, purposeful, and with a meaningful sense of sound moral clarity. Thank you. And thanks to your parents too.


  6. Diane Dimond on October 1, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Dianne Layden writes:

    Hi Diane,

    In reply to yesterday’s column, below is a link to the NM ruling that held the photographer was subject to the state’s business regulations, including non-discrimination against customers. I agree with the view that to do business in the US is a privilege and requires legal compliance.

    We don’t agree on the wedding cake case, and I am put off by your description of the bakery owner as “a hard-working entrepreneur who tries to live a faith-filled life” (WHAT A GUY!) and suggestion the gay couple find another bakery (IT’S YOUR PROBLEM).

    First, a ruling against the couple will open the doors to discrimination against other groups based on religion. Second, I suspect hypocrisy when nominal Christians don’t adhere to the Biblical Golden Rule, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    To me, the case is backlash against increasing social acceptance of the LGBT community. I just gave another talk yesterday on hate crimes. Below is a link to an article about the high rate per capita of hate crimes against LGBT persons.

    Adversaries often call lawyers because the US is a litigious nation. Allegedly, we gave up violence for law and order, including lawsuits. Also, lawsuits enforce Constitutional and legal rights, and clarify the law when legal questions arise. Walking away from certain disputes allows profligate legal non-compliance, and filing suit doesn’t mean that one wins, even when justified.

  7. Diane Dimond on October 2, 2017 at 7:41 am

    ABQ Journal Reader Lynne Murnane writes:

    I read your article about the conflicting rights of gays and conservative cake makers with interest. It does seem reasonable that the gay couple can find somewhere else to get a cake and the cake baker can be left alone.

    BUT — and you knew there would be a but, where does it end? People have all sorts of religious reasons for why they or don’t want to associate with certain people. There are folks who don’t want to serve people of color, folks who don’t believe in ‘mixed’ marriages, etc. And they all seem to have a religious basis for their views. This is not a common view, but there are folks around here (I’m in Oklahoma) who think Jews have horns. (They shave them down to appear more normal. I am not making this up). Please do not come back and argue that this is a harmless, personal view. There is no way that people who think like this are going to apply some fairness standard.

    There are plenty of people in state legislatures who are pushing legislation that would make it legal to refuse any services to gays: jobs, housing, and so on. How do we consider the religious rights of those lawmakers — and the people who support them — against people who are also citizens? C’mon, now, the cake baking thing is easy. What about the guy running for state office a few years ago who said he’d be fine with a law that allowed for stoning gays?

    Now, of course he didn’t also call for stoning adulterers, because that would be a lot of folks, but no one stood up and said, “Ok, you are completely over the line here.” Apparently it is not possible to say something that is considered a threat to people if you are religious. And how about Judge Roy Moore? He doesn’t believe that the First Amendment applies to Muslims or atheists; he has a religious basis for his views, and they are likely to be amplified if he joins the Senate.

    So cakes, not the end of the world, but what they open is not nearly so easy to tease out. I am, frankly, disgusted at the idea that anything straight people do falls under “Oh, we’re all sinners,” and anything gays do is a nuclear-level threat. I’ll tell you what that cake maker doesn’t do: vet any of the straight couple who come in.


    Lynne Murnane

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