As the United States Supreme Court continues to debate whether or not the act of making a cake is a form of expressive speech covered under the First Amendment, as well as whether or not someone can be compelled to create such speech, Kentucky’s Supreme Court is preparing to hear a case concerning whether or not a shirt company can decline to print shirts for a gay pride parade.
The case stems from actions that occurred in 2012, when Hands-On Originals, a shirt-company in Lexington, Kentucky, declined an order to make T-shirts for a gay pride parade because the owner had religious objections to pushing a pro-gay marriage. According to Lexington law, more specifically its public accommodation ordinances, the shop had violated their laws, which the Lexington-Urban County Rights Commission ruled.
Lower court rulings in Kentucky have already pointed out that this is a bad verdict, and that the government utilizing force to coerce a printer to produce T-shirts with an obvious political message that is contrary to his religious beliefs is as extreme an example of compelled speech as any lawyer could ever present. Lower courts agree that this isn’t about discrimination, but rather about forcing a private organization to assist in dissemination of a message that they don’t agree with against the will of the private business.
The case closely relates to that of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case currently before the U.S Supreme Court. While hearing arguments for the case, the court seems to be most focused on one question; is the baking of a cake an expressive act, and debating hypothetical situations in order to come to an agreement on the question.
If the court agrees that baking a cake (or printing a T-shirt) is an expressive act, it is protected by the First Amendment from government interference, and the government cannot compel speech. In the case concerning the Cakeshop and their cakes, a previous Colorado ruling found that a bakery can refuse to print bible verses that they find to be offensive, suggesting that such would be compelled speech. Why is it so different when the compelled speech is in favor of a liberal cause?
While much of the country debates whether a cake shop should have to make a cake for someone partaking in acts they find to be incompatible with their own religion, the courts are much more focused on the question of compelled speech. Even Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor voiced concerns yesterday about the far-reaching consequences of their decision on the concept of compelled speech.
These questions do not need consideration in the Kentucky case, however. The Kentucky case exists in a state that has had ample legal precedent and history on the topic of compelling speech, and the state has repeatedly come down in favor of protecting the right of private organizations and businesses to not be compelled into speech that they find to be disagreeable. It is likely that the Lexington-Urban County Rights Commission will see their decision overturned as the shirt printer continues the five-year mission to get justice and be protected from government compulsion of speech.
The idea of a compelled speech should be a hateful one to the average American. In 2012, and still to this day, the Gay Pride events held throughout the United States were politically motivated. They were also directly in defiance of many religions and their teachings. If the government can compel individuals and businesses to participate in political speech, especially when that political speech infringes on their right to freely live by their religious beliefs, can we as a nation pretend that we have a right to free speech or freedom to practice religion?
This is oddly reminiscent of an old story from the Soviet Union concerning religious practice. The government swore up and down that religion would not be suppressed, and people could continue to keep their faith; true to their word, the Soviet Government allowed people to maintain their faith in private. They just refused to allow people to practice their faith in deed or word; refusing to give religions their sabbath off, refusing to recognize holidays, and refusing to allow people to use religion as a legitimate basis for decision making.
At the end of the day, the right to freedom of religion means nothing if you cannot live your life within the boundaries of that religion’s precepts. Compulsion of speech against personal beliefs is the very antithesis of freedom of speech.