Starting early Tuesday morning, I had the privilege of participating in a rally on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. That was the day when oral arguments began in the case of Jack Phillips, the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. It is my contention that every Christian in America should watch this case closely, as its implications will be loud and clear in regard to religious freedom – and freedom of speech in general – for all Americans.
Last month I was part of a conference call in which I was able to hear personally from Mr. Phillips. Mr. Phillips seems warm and humble, and he seems to love everybody. Literally, everybody. He told us tearfully some of his story.
The saga began in 2012 when Jack refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. Though many in the media would have you believe that his actions were bigoted and cruel, I would strongly disagree. Mr. Phillips regularly serves people in the LGBTQ community; several gay persons and proponents of same-sex marriage have risen to his defense, thankfully. What Jack could not do – as an artist – was to create a themed cake which violated his personal and deeply-held religious convictions. He was happy to sell any product which was needed for the planned reception, but he could not create something which violated his conscience. Just for the record, Jack does not create Halloween cakes, and he has refused to bake cakes celebrating divorce, for example. Celebrating those things is simply not who he is as a follower of Jesus Christ. I am reminded of Daniel, and of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Though same-sex marriage was not yet legal in the state and the traditional definition of marriage was enshrined in the state constitution, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission charged Mr. Phillips with discrimination, and the net result of the financial fallout has been the near-destruction of Jack’s business and livelihood – not to mention personal attacks and even death threats.
Let me be clear: if this were a case of refusal to serve someone in a public business, I would agree with Colorado. But let’s look at this from a different political perspective. Would we force an African American painter of outdoor murals – the kind like we have in downtown Paducah – to create paintings celebrating the legacy of the Ku Klux Klan? Not only would that be horribly offensive to the artist, but it would violate the painter’s freedom of speech. For an artist, artwork is speech.
As I was standing there in Washington, D.C., taking it all in, there was something beautiful about not just the “Justice for Jack” rally, but also the lively and passionate rally for the opposition in this case. This is America! This is the land where women and men can vehemently disagree with one another, and where everyone can express their personal convictions without fear of punishment.
Does this case have complications? Of course it does. Could someone claim to be an “artist” but only hide behind that title in order to discriminate? Yes. That is a danger. Fake art for sinister purposes, I suppose that’s a possibility. But, in my opinion, we must make every effort to uphold our Constitution’s First Amendment for every American. Jack is most certainly an artist; his cake designs were featured on advertisements for Season 2 of TLC’s Cake Boss.
If the First Amendment is not strongly protected in the Phillips case, I fear the implications for Christian schools, and even for churches, particularly in the areas of employment and facilities usage. I say it’s high time for tolerance in America, but not the kind of “tolerance” which ends up silencing people who disagree with a particular position on the part of the government. That priceless freedom is the unique contribution of these United States to the world.
Pray with me for God’s justice to prevail in the highest court of our land. My take on things is that the justices have already signaled that this will be a difficult decision. As you pray, remember that there is a higher court before which each one of us will one day stand.
On a related note, I’ve been asked to serve on the Leadership Council of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention for 2018. I’m excited to think about how the Lord might use me and shape me in the process – Christ is the ultimate Artist, you know – as so many of these issues are close to my heart.