The 1st Amendment protects professionals from being forced to create speech that conveys a message that is contrary to their personal beliefs. However, a business cannot deny services or goods because of the characteristics or appearance of a customer. Last week, opening statements were heard in the Supreme Court for Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
The overriding issue is that David Mullins and Charlie Craig only had a 20 second conversation with Lakewood, Colorado-based baker Jack Phillips, and the design of the cake was never discussed. Jack Phillips’ position is that his vocation is a “creative expression” and his religious beliefs prohibit him from making a cake for the marriage of two men. If I were a talented pastry chef I would not be comfortable creating a cake with depictions of Nazi symbolism or rhetoric. However, it’s possible that Craig and Mullins wanted a traditional cake without any semblances of same-sex marriage, which means Phillips discriminated against the two men because of their sexuality.
This case has weighed on my mind since I first heard about the interaction at the Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2012. As a society, we cannot allow people to disguise bigotry with a cloak of “freedom” in order to infringe upon our civil rights. A decision in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop could introduce a dangerous precedent that will erode equality advancements in the United States.
As I write, I am eating breakfast at a local diner in Denver. I look back through a small opening to the kitchen to observe the cook. I watch him move about the grills, griddles, and stoves and I respect that his cooking is a creative expression like designing a cake. What if he looked at me and refused to cook these huevos rancheros in front of me because of one of my traits? If we allow “creative freedom” to win in the case of the Masterpiece Cakeshop then we shouldn’t be shocked when signs return to storefront windows excluding specific customers. On February 1, 1960 four African Americans sat at a “whites-only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina and took part in the first sit-in protest when they were refused coffee. We have come too far to go back.
Hopefully, dignity and decency will prevail. May “we all eat cake” together.