While I’m pleased that Mr Phillips of Masterpiece Cakes has won a minor victory at the Supreme Court, I don’t think it’s that big a win. Darel E. Paul analyzes the ruling very clearly here at First Things.
It seems that the Supreme Court justices didn’t rule about gay marriage. They already approved that with the Obergefell decision. Neither did they assert the principle of religious liberty very strongly, and as Paul points out, they didn’t address the issue of freedom of speech at all.
Neither, as I point out here in my Patheos comment on the ruling did the justices see fit to make any distinction between discrimination against homosexual people and the fact that it was a religious service–a wedding–that was involved. The baker said specifically that he would serve homosexual people in every other way, but it was the fact that he was asked to take part in a religious ceremony that was against his religion that was the issue.
Perhaps this issues was addressed and because I am lazy and not a legal eagle I did not see it. If so, I am more than happy to be corrected.
My initial hunch was confirmed in reading Darel Paul’s article that this decision was a pretty weak win for Christians. All the justices did, it seems to me, was rap the knuckles of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because they used mean and bigoted language about Mr Phillips’ religion in their deliberations.
Indeed, some of the opinions were that this was the only problem. Therefore, the effect of the judgement is actually quite chilling. All the enforcers of the Civil Rights Commission need to do is to prettify their language. Instead of saying Mr Phillips’ views are like Nazis, they should couch their opinions in politically correct marshmallow speak.
So instead of the inflammatory language the be-suited official of the Civil Rights Commission will say, “Thank you so much Mr Phillips for coming to speak with us today.” (icy smile) We do appreciate your views and we understand that your religious opinions are sincerely held. Thank you for that. We appreciate the fact that this country of ours is founded on the sincere and honest faith of many people with a variety of religious views. However, it is our job to balance your sincere views with the rights of other citizens and we have decided that, on balance, you really do need to alter your view in a more tolerant direction. To assist you with this we are encouraging you to enroll in a re-education course. This course will be held at the Happy Dale Socialization and Adaption Unit. The course will be residential and we will continue assisting you in this therapy until such time as the re-education is successful. While you are in residence we hope you will use your many skills and your inspirational approach to life to assist the other inmates, errrm. I mean, residents. For your privacy Mr Phillips we are asking for there to be a news prohibition, sometimes known as a gag order. This is to protect you from any negativities which might come your way. So that you will be able to spend your therapeutic residency in a calm state of mind we have also decided that this will be your final appeal and you need not worry yourself any further or incur any further legal costs. Thank you again for the sincerity of your religious opinions. We wish you all the very best as you embark on this new adventure and this new chapter in your life.”
As far as I can see, if the Civil Rights Commissioners had been a bit more polite they would have won.
David French over at National Review takes a more positive view pointing out that Justice Kennedy did more than just smackdown the members of the Civil Rights Commission for being unkind. He pointed out that the Commission was not only bigoted, but unfair in its application of the law because when other bakers were asked to create cakes with anti-gay marriage messages their right to refuse to make those cakes was upheld. In other words, bakers who refused to make anti-gay marriage cakes were allowed to do so while Mr Phillips was not allowed to refuse a pro gay marriage cake.
So the court has not so much stuck up for unlimited freedom or religion or freedom of speech, but it has upheld fair treatment of all citizens.