Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Though conservatives claim this case is about religious liberty, some 1,300 faith leaders have spoken out, saying it is really about an attempt to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination.
At issue is whether a bakeshop in Colorado, whose owners are Christians who do not affirm LGBT people, should be legally required under the state’s non-discrimination laws to provide a wedding cake to a same-gender couple celebrating their civil marriage. In an amicus brief filed with the court, the 1,300 faith leaders say allowing Masterpiece Cakeshop to discriminate against LGBT clients would create gaping holes in non-discrimination law, paving the way for a “license to discriminate.” Their brief explained:
“It is both morally wrong and not constitutionally required to permit blanket discrimination in the public marketplace for goods and services based on the personal religious beliefs of merchants with respect to same-sex couples’ rights and relationships. Amici believe that, to the contrary, public accommodation laws should be applied on the basis of religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law.”
Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, the Executive Director of the National Coalition of American Nuns and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, was one of the signers of a statement by 1,300 U.S. faith leaders who agree that Masterpiece Cakeshop’s action was discriminatory. Gramick told Religion News Service:
“‘I am not a lawyer, so I do not know the fine legal arguments of the case; I know only that my faith tells me that discrimination against persons, even those with whom I disagree, is wrong. . .If someone, whose political, social, or religious views I did not share, came to my house, I would surely offer them a cake and a comfortable cup of tea, as Jesus would do. So why would I not sell them the same?'”
Leaders fro DignityUSA, New Ways Ministry, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual also signed the statement.
Other Catholics, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Colorado Catholic Conference, the Catholic Medical Association, filed a separate brief in support of Masterpiece Cakeshop. Their claim is that the matter “is about the freedom to live according to one’s religious beliefs in daily life,” reported Crux. The Masterpiece lawyers have also claimed that creating a cake is artistic expression, which is protected free speech under the First Amendment as well.
Finally, there are some Catholics who have voiced concern that the debate over Masterpiece be sufficiently nuanced. Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter took up the claim that the bakers are really artists:
“A cake baker is not an artist but a craftsman. The artist can attend to no other consideration except what his artistic vision and the materials he has chosen demands. A craftsman must entertain other considerations. An artist can make a quilt that is 100 feet long and paper thin, but a craftsman must make a quilt that keeps a person warm and fits the bed. Phillips’ cakes must be tasty, of a certain size, and carry the message the customer wants.”
Winters quotes Dr. Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of theology and law at Boston College, who disagrees with his assessment. She said the baker “is being asked to create something. He views that involvement as a kind of participation in the event itself,” and this should be taken seriously.
While, like Gramick, I am no lawyer, it seems clear that allowing discrimination against the same-gender couple in this case could easily lead to further discrimination against LGBT people that will be legally justified. This attempt to create a “license to discriminate” has been happening at local, state, and federal levels for the last few years, especially after marriage equality was legalized in 2015. U.S. political and judicial circumstances have changed in the past year, but hopefully the court’s majority will continue the U.S. on the trajectory of equality for all people, and not just some.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 5, 2017