Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court hearing in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission helped to delineate the complex issues in one of the most important religious civil rights case in years.
The case will determine whether a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, can refuse, based on his constitutional right to be free of government interference in the practice of his religion, to bake a wedding cake for a gay marriage. It will determine, as the Wshington Post describes the issue,
whether government can compel a U.S. citizen to violate his conscience and participate in speech with which he fundamentally disagrees and that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs.
One of the main issues that emerged is whether the baker can successfully assert that his custom made wedding cakes are a work of art. The idea is scoffed at some of those who think that Phillips should be forced to violate his conscience for the sake of a public accommodation. But they should watch this video that makes the case for artistic expression. And to get to know a man who is standing up for his beliefs.
The artistic argument, of course, is only one of the complicated issues that the high court must resolve. But if you want more understanding of the argument from Phillip's point of view, here is a explanation offered by the Scotus Blog:
In his brief at the Supreme Court, Phillips depicts the legal battle as a pivotal one that threatens “his and all likeminded believers’ freedom to live out their religious identity in the public square,” as well as the “expressive freedom of all who create art or other speech for a living.” He stresses that the First Amendment protects expression, which is not limited to words but can also include visual art, from traditional paintings and movies to tattoos to stained-glass windows. The “expression” protected by the First Amendment also extends to Phillips’ wedding cakes, he says, even if they are made with “mostly edible materials like icing and fondant rather than ink and clay,” because they convey messages about marriage and the couple being married. And the First Amendment also bars the state both from requiring Phillips to design cakes bearing messages that violate his beliefs and from punishing him for refusing to create such cakes – particularly when Phillips could, if he supported same-sex marriage, refuse requests to design cakes that oppose it.
UPDATE: Here's an argument that Colorado commission was being hypocritical in taking a position that Phillips couldn't refuse to design a cake for a same-sex wedding but that other bakers could refuse to make a cake for bakers who refuse to make a cake that opposes same-sex marriage:
Justice Anthony Kennedy took the state of Colorado to task for what appeared to be "hostility to religion" by at least two members of the Civil Rights Commission, forcing the lawyer for Colorado to officially disavow their statements. Other justices noted that the Commission seemed to be engaging in viewpoint discrimination, punishing a Christian baker who opposed being involved in a same-sex wedding, but ruling in favor of lesbian bakers who refused to create a cake ordered by a Christian that expressed opposition to gay 'marriage.