The famous “bake the cake, bigot” case reached a conclusion this week, after six years of movement through various courts and commissions. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, had refused to bake a custom cake for a gay couple’s wedding. Though Mr. Phillips offered to sell other baked goods to the couple, they left the store and filed a discrimination complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, accusing Mr. Phillips of violating the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. From there, the case wrapped around several judges and other commissions until a decision ruling against Mr. Phillips was reached. The Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear any appeal, but Mr. Phillips appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which agreed to review the case. In a 7-2 ruling (which the media universally called a “narrow victory,” instead of a “narrow ruling,” certainly on purpose), the Supreme Court sided with Mr. Phillips. This outcome, however, was not the landmark decision that pundits on either side were hoping for.
The Supreme Court’s decision relied on two particular circumstances of the discrimination case. The first was that the commission in charge of reviewing the discrimination claim displayed open hostility to the religious beliefs of the baker, violating his right to free religious expression: “Freedom of religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust,” a commissioner is quoted saying, on which the Supreme Court commented that to compare the baker’s “religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. . . is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement.” While a perfectly correct point, this could also be the court telling similar commissions around the country that they can keep their anti-Christian hatreds as long as they are never made explicit.
The second point made was that Masterpiece Cakeshop’s custom cakes are, in fact, a form of artistic expression, and that they are therefore a type of protected speech. Again, a seemingly valid point, though the baker is still forced to sell his pre-made products despite his personal, religious objections. This case was neither the pro-poz victory the left wanted, nor the cementing of religious freedom that the right hoped for. The half-measure nature of the decision guarantees that more cases of this nature will rise to the Supreme Court in the future, reinforcing the dire importance of conservative judge appointments to the nation’s future.
The consequences of this ruling are hard to predict. On one hand, the refusal of the Supreme Court to recognize a total right to free association effectively gives state and federal governments the power to intervene in private, non-artistic business transactions whenever protected classes are involved (effectively the status quo). If a producer chooses to source his raw materials from a White-owned company instead of a Black-owned one, does this carry any potentiality for a discrimination case? The complications of a clown-world society, in which undefinable terms like “dignity” somehow carry legal weight (but only for certain populations) leave the concept of free-enterprise on shaky ground.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court’s decision to respect free-association in artistic production might have opened up a massive, highly abusable avenue for business owners. It was made clear in the decision that artisanal baking is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment, but what else could this apply to? If some minor personal touch can be added to a product—an engraved signature, or even a stamped logo—does it become the artistic expression of its producer? The experience of a restaurant, decorated according to a theme and serving passionately prepared dishes, could be considered a form of artistry—would the owner be able to choose who to serve the experience to? If menstrual blood on a canvas can be considered ‘art’ in the current year, what can’t be?
To escape the bogging complexities and contradictions of questions regarding artistic production and religious beliefs, two options unfold, both at the extremes of the argument at hand. Either the First Amendment, in its entirety, must be abolished, or its precepts must be accepted in all forms of private associations. If the state has no purview to mandate whom a citizen’s friends and lovers are, it should have no purview to mandate whom a citizen does business with. Otherwise, the legality of all expression is subject to the swaying whims of a ruling elite who has made it clear, time and time again, that the straight White man has no right to his own beliefs.