Many United States citizens consider their First Amendment Rights to be of the utmost importance. It is deplorable, however, that some Americans use these freedoms to be prejudice toward others.
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday Dec. 5, according to Scotus Blog. This case has been expected to be a landmark circumstance since it deals with controversial issues regarding same sex marriage, religious freedom and free speech.
Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, a same-sex couple, visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July of 2012, with the intention of purchasing a cake for their wedding reception, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The couple, however, was denied service.
The owner of the Colorado-based Masterpiece Cakeshop Jack Phillips refused to sell the same-sex couple a wedding cake. Phillips asserted that baking is a creative process, and therefore counts as his constitutional right to freedom of speech, as reported by the ACLU Blog.
Additionally, same-sex unions go against Phillips’ faith, and therefore he argues that the state should exempt him from anti-discrimination laws because the constitution protects his freedom of religion as well.
The issue posed is whether the Constitution grants permission to U.S. citizens to discriminate even if they are infringing laws that pertain to public places, including businesses that must be open to everyone, like Masterpiece Cakeshop.
On the surface level, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission appears to center on our First Amendment right to religious freedom, but on closer examination, the case is not about wedding cakes—it’s about religious exemption.
In the past, religious exclusions “from the law have occasionally been granted to protect the person who holds the belief,” according to The New York Times. Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is different in that it would allow people to harm others, which is really what the Masterpiece case is about, creating the right for individuals to discriminate.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental part of America. Religious beliefs, however, do not give any of us a right to ignore the law or to harm others because of who they are,” staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project Elizabeth Gill said, as reported by the ACLU.
Many states have laws that prevent discrimination in places of public accommodation. It is imperative that the Supreme Court takes these laws into consideration when determining whether to allow businesses to be excused from pre-existing rules and provide their services to only those who align with their religious beliefs.
Additionally, it is worrisome that a decision in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop would allow for more discernment toward the LGBTQ+ community. Allowing the baker to refuse to bake same-sex wedding cakes and to deny service to same-sex couples would set a precedent that discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals is acceptable.
It is necessary to note the consequences that would occur if individuals were given the right to discriminate. It would permit doctors to legally refuse services to LGBTQ+ individuals, or allow for medical clinics to refuse services to those who are HIV positive.
Some of these consequences are already in action: OP-Ed writer Jennifer Flynn Boylan notes, “In Mississippi, a funeral home refused to cremate a man’s husband once it learned the dead man had been gay. In Kentucky, a religious exemption law allows schools to bar L.G.B.T youth from joining student groups,” according to The New York Times.
The specificities of the Masterpiece case could very easily shift from prejudice based on sexual orientation to create a case that would allow for racial or gender discrimination.
Historically, businesses have not been permitted to exert prejudice toward their customers, especially when there are laws protecting citizens against specific forms of discrimination. The U.S. shouldn’t allow this, as it will only lead to even more harmful discernment and deter the progress we have made on social issues.