The Supreme Court is getting ready to hear a landmark case that could change the way we look at something we tend to take for granted in the United States, the First Amendment. While many understand and demand their freedom to speak as they wish, the first part of this important amendment is often overlooked. The wording includes some fundamental religious protections that may be challenged by a case that all started with a cake of all things.
The cake in question is a wedding cake a couple in Colorado tried to hire a local baker to make. The baker, Jack Phillips, is also the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. Phillips declined to make the cake because he felt the upcoming union went against his religious beliefs. The couple that was getting married was a same-sex couple. Phillips expressed that being forced to create a cake for the David Mullins and Charlie Craig wedding violated his religious freedoms.
Since the entire text of the First Amendment is in question, it is important to take special care in reading it in its entirety. According to the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
What it seems is this case that the two sides are almost speaking to very different languages. Is this a case of a simple dispute over a cake turned discrimination or a violation of the baker’s First Amendment rights? The cake order took place in 2012, and the trio has been back and forth to court ever since. When the baker initially refused the order, he was sued in a lower court for violating the state anti-discrimination law. That court ruled in favor of the couple.
When the court ruled in favor of the couple, many saw this as a victory for gay rights advocates. The idea that anyone felt the need to protect their religious freedoms suddenly became outrageous. As the case moves to a higher court, many hope to change this ruling.
Instead of seeing this as a case of discrimination against the couple, the current administration took a far different view of the case. As a recent report written by Justice Department spokesperson Lauren Ehrsam:
“First Amendment protects the right of free expression for all Americans. Although public-accommodations laws serve important purposes, they — like other laws — must yield to the individual freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees. That includes the freedom not to create expression for ceremonies that violate one’s religious beliefs.”
Mullins and Craig forced the issue and made it seem like it was all centered around their right to buy the cake they wanted. What they did not appear to understand is that in theory Phillips has the right to practice his religion and this could mean not supporting weddings that are outside of his beliefs. Although his conservative definition of marriage may not be popular, the baker contends it is a vital part of his religious expression and beliefs.
Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall wrote for the Justice Department and explained:
“Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights.
The government may not enact content-based laws commanding a speaker to engage in protected expression: An artist cannot be forced to paint, a musician cannot be forced to play, and a poet cannot be forced to write.”
The written statement from Wall for the Justice Department was not the average brief written in regards to a Supreme Court case that could have special significance. This type of brief is often written, but not to the extent that Wall has pushed for the court to overturn the lower court ruling. It seems at this time that the efforts of being made to protect the fundamental First Amendment right for every American to follow their choice of religion. In the case of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, creating a wedding cake is not just about baking but also participating in a sacred religious event.