Articles and opinion pieces about Jack Phillips and his Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, are everywhere.
And rightfully so. This landmark religious freedom case could determine whether you have the freedom to live and work according to your most deeply held beliefs. This case is a big deal.
One recent opinion piece in the New York Times boldly declared that “The Masterpiece Cakeshop Case Is Not About Religious Freedom.” Others claim that the case has nothing to do with artistic expression. But a close look at the facts says otherwise.
FACT 1: Jack is an artist.
The Times article equated a wedding cake with making a sandwich or mowing the lawn. “What would not be art if the court rules to protect icing and buttercream?” the article asks.
For their part, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the same-sex couple who wanted Jack to design their wedding cake, seem to agree with the Times writer. "I don't feel like we asked him for a piece of art," Craig recently told USA Today.
But the USA Today article also makes an interesting point. It tells the story of Craig and Mullins walking into Masterpiece Cakeshop with “wedding binder in hand.” Have you ever seen a wedding binder? Those who watched the sitcom Friends may recall Monica Geller’s wedding binder full of ideas (you can watch a clip here to refresh your memory). Wedding binders are full of ideas for the wedding dress, flowers, and yes, cake.
Comparing Craig’s mention of the wedding binder with the Times writer’s suggestion that a wedding centerpiece like a cake is akin to slapping some turkey and cheese between two slices of bread presents a contradictory picture. After all, no one discusses color schemes or flips through a binder of pictures when asking someone to make them a sandwich. A quick review of Jack’s wedding work lays bare the myth that the two are remotely comparable.
FACT 2: Since Jack’s cakes are art—his artistic expression is protected by the First Amendment.
You may be wondering what the United States Supreme Court has said about artistic expression in the past. The ACLU puts it nicely.
The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment’s protection of speech to extend well beyond speeches and books to virtually anything that the human creative impulse can produce. The First Amendment embodies the belief that in a free and democratic society, individual adults must be free to decide for themselves what to read, write, paint, draw, compose, see, and hear.
Jack believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, and using his creative talents to design a cake for an event that contradicts that belief isn’t something he can do. That’s why he politely declined to make that particular cake, but said he would be happy to sell the two men something else or design a cake for a different event if they wanted it.
The Constitution protects that freedom—not just because Jack is a person of faith, but also because he is an artist who pours himself into creating custom works of art for his customers.
FACT 3: Religious freedom is not about discrimination.
Jack has encountered numerous individuals during his five-year legal journey who have an extremely negative view of religious freedom. In fact, early on in Jack’s case, a commissioner with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the government agency that punished Jack, called his appeal to religious freedom a “despicable piece of rhetoric.” The Times writer similarly claims that Jack’s case is about “enshrining a freedom to discriminate.”
The problem with these arguments is that they conflict with the facts of Jack’s case. Jack serves everyone who comes through his doors—including Craig and Mullins. But he can’t make every cake that is asked of him. It’s never about the person requesting the cake—it’s about the event and what that event celebrates.
Now the United States Supreme Court must decide—does the Constitution protect Jack’s religious and artistic freedom? Can the government order creative professionals to help celebrate events that violate their sincerely held beliefs?
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