Baker, couple clash in court

Thomas Searl

In 2012, Christian Baker Jack Phillips refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, and now finds himself engaged in a legal battle on the national level. photo courtesy of MasterPiece Cakeshop

The refusal of Jack Phillips, owner of the Colorado Masterpiece Cake Shop, to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple has stirred a conversation about freedom of religion and equality. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission began oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court in early December.
Phillips, who refused to bake a custom wedding cake in 2012, claims his Christian beliefs prohibit him from using his artistic expression to contribute to a gay wedding. His legal team asserts that his cake baking is a form of free expression or “speech” and is thus not subject to regulation by the government.
“I think the cake shop… should have the right to refuse their service for anything they find immoral,” said junior Sam Mohr, a religious freedom advocate. “If people find this discriminatory, the business will lose money. The business which accepts more people will be more successful but people are not forced to support what they find immoral.”
Charlie Craig and David Mullins claim their freedom from discrimination is being violated.
“I think the case is discriminatory to the LGBT+ community,” said junior Grace Quayle, who supports the couple in the case. “Refusing service to someone because of their sexual orientation does not seem like the kind, Christian way. It pushes the [status] of LGBT+ people below heterosexual ones, which could give way to a more impactful fight in court.”
Sr. Maria Jacinta Weide, IHM, who served on the National Advisory Council of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for four years ending in 2016, said that the case is more complicated than outright discrimination.
“In this case, Jack Phillips did not refuse to make or sell cakes to Charlie Craig and David Mullins because of their sexual orientation.” Sr. Maria Jacinta said. “In fact, Mr. Phillips offered to make them shower cakes or birthday cakes, or to sell them a variety of brownies or cookies. He simply refused to use his talents to create a cake that celebrated same-sex marriage. He treated Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins with respect. It was not their sexual orientation but the message on the cake that made Phillips refuse the job.”

I am very sorry that individuals who seek to follow their consciences can find themselves in the middle of court cases that take up a lot of time, money and worry.””

— Sr. Maria Jacinta Weide, IHM

Debate coach Ryan McFarland said the precedent set by the case could be dangerous.
“I feel… if we can choose to refuse service to certain individuals, that creates a precedent that allows us to restrict services for others who may not be gay, but could be different races,” McFarland said. “[Suppose] a Christian couple goes to a Muslim baker, that person could then turn them away based on their religious beliefs. I think this could also result in Christian people being turned away because of their beliefs.”
Sr. Maria Jacinta, who lives in a religious community, is concerned about how this case could affect those who wish to live out their faith.
“Pope Benedict changed the English ending [of the mass] to give it the language of commissioning, in which the priest is sending the people out to live what they have just received at the Mass.” She said. “We cannot ignore our faith in daily living.”
The Supreme Court looks to be as sharply divided as the country on the issue–four will likely side with the baker and four with the couple. Justice Anthony Kennedy has yet to definitively indicate which way he is leaning.
During oral arguments Dec. 6, Kennedy said the state of Colorado had failed to act tolerantly toward the religious beliefs of Phillips. The same day, however, he insisted that it would be “…an affront to the gay community” to hang a sign which said the shop refused to bake cakes for gay weddings. The deciding vote is probably in Kennedy’s hand, so the case is up in the air with no side having a clear advantage. The Supreme Court will officially rule on the case in the summer of 2018.