Citizens Project executive director Deb Walker wrote this piece for The Gazette on December 3, 2017:
It’s not about cake. It’s also not about religious freedom. At its core, the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court is about whether businesses should be able to discriminate against people because of who they are and whether all people will be treated equally, as is promised by the Constitution.
The outcome of this case will be critical to civil rights for all and could undermine protected status under the law for people across the nation who may be subjected to discrimination based on their race, sex, marital status or religion.
In 2012, newlyweds Charlie Craig and David Mullins were refused service at Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood based solely on their sexual orientation. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, affirmed by the courts, found that the bakery violated Colorado nondiscrimination law by refusing to sell a wedding cake to the couple. The bakery argues that because of its religious opposition (combined with what it claims is artistic expression in designing cakes), it should be exempted from following Colorado law.
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard this argument before. After the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, a restaurant called Piggie Park denied service to black people citing religious opposition. In a decisive vote, it was established that civil rights supersede religious freedom. Businesses that are open to the public to provide commercial services (like selling cake) cannot discriminate based on who the customer is and have an obligation to serve all people on the same terms.
Simply, the laws that ensure that all people are treated fairly require serving all customers. Those who favor the right to discriminate based on religion would like us to believe that this is an issue of religious conscience. Providing a good or service to a person does not imply approval of his religion, sexual orientation, gender, race or marital status, and validating this assertion could have catastrophic consequences for civil rights. We have seen examples of similar cases of discrimination based on the same argument: a physician who refuses to treat a patient because of HIV status, a funeral home refusing services because the deceased was gay, a pharmacy that refuses to sell birth control to an unmarried woman, or a landlord who will not rent to a person because of his religion. We depend on nondiscrimination laws to ensure that all people are treated fairly, and the Masterpiece case seeks to undermine these protections.
Central to who we are as Americans is our deep commitment to protecting the religious freedom that is guaranteed to us by the First Amendment. As a committed Christian, my ability to believe, worship and express my faith is protected by the Constitution. What is not protected is the ability to discriminate against others in business.
Our history is one in which we have progressively achieved greater inclusion and equality for all. We treat people equally irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender, disability, race or religion, and we protect them from discrimination. We must not undo protections that we have in place, and we must continue to require that businesses open to all serve everyone on the same terms.