Can the government coerce speech? Can citizens be forced, under penalty of law, to affirm that which contradicts their faith?
The answer to these questions is what’s at stake on December 5 when the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado.
The decision will have a far reaching impact not only for Jack and other bakers, florists, and photographers, but for all people of faith. If the freedom to live according to our conscience is taken away from some, it can be taken away from all of us.
If you’re not aware of the case, in 2012 Jack Phillips was asked to create a wedding cake for the homosexual “wedding” of two men. Jack politely declined because participating in such an event conflicted with his Christian faith.
Here’s what he DIDN’T do: He didn’t bar the couple from buying any pre-made cake or confectionery in his shop. He didn’t hang a “no gays allowed” sign in his store.
What Jack Phillips did do is decline to use his artistic skills to design a custom cake for an event that clashed with faith. This was something he had done countless times before with no repercussions. Jack will not create Halloween cakes. He has refused to make erotic-themed cakes for bachelor parties. When asked to design a cake commemorating a divorce, Jack turned down the request because he did not believe it would please God to celebrate such an event. Jack’s answer to the homosexual couple was the same as in each of these cases: “I’m sorry, but I can’t promote messages that violate my beliefs, though I’d be happy to sell you anything else.”
Soon after, Jack received a letter from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission informing him he was being charged with discrimination. This occurred in 2012 – two years before same-sex marriage was even legalized in Colorado.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in a ruling upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals, ordered Jack Phillips to bake wedding cakes for homosexual “weddings” or pay exorbitant fines. [Instead of complying with the dictate to make cakes for same-sex “weddings,” Jack has stopped making all wedding cakes which accounted for 40% of his business.] In addition, the state of Colorado also forced Jack to provide comprehensive “re-education” of his staff, ensure compliance, and then file quarterly obedience reports with the government for two full years.
Obedience reports?? That’s what’s at stake for all Christians in the case against Jack – the forced affirmation of sexual deviancy under penalty of law.
It’s important to note that this is about forcing participation in an event, not discrimination against a person. Christian bakers and florists aren’t refusing to serve homosexuals, rather they’re refusing to provide their artistic creation to an event. As Jack Phillips stated: “Every American artist has the right to create or not to create.” Will the government now force a person to use their skills and artistic expression to produce a product against their will and in violation of their conscience?
Eighty-six members of Congress signed on to an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support of Jack Phillips, including Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo) who stated: “Government coercion of speech that violates the religious conscience of the speaker is not only a violation of the First Amendment; it is also patently un-American …. A government that tells you what you can’t say is bad enough. But a government that tells you what you must say, and what you must do, and punishes you if you don’t, is frightening. That kind of state power should scare all of us, no matter where we stand on this issue.”
According to a recent Cato Institute survey, the majority of Americans agree; 68 percent of Americans don’t think that a baker should be forced to “provide a special-order wedding cake for a same-sex wedding if doing so violates their religious convictions.” Only 22 percent feel the government should penalize the baker in some way.
Now the Supreme Court must decide – does the First Amendment protect Jack’s religious liberty and artistic freedom, principles the high court has long defended, or not?
Jack Phillips’ Christian faith guides every aspect his life, including his work. He lives out the calling given to each of us as followers of Christ: “… whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31)
The Constitution protects such an exercise of faith. Please pray as Jack’s case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on December 5. (And in the days following as the justices deliberate.) Pray that they will rule based on the Constitution, not ideology.
Yet if our religious freedom is taken away, it doesn’t change our calling to stand for Biblical truth. Pray for the courage to stand for truth no matter what the cost.
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