Christian bakers, gay cakes: Masterpiece cake shop v. the Constitution

Back in April of 2016 we published the post below; with today’s Supreme Court decision allowing a baker who runs a public business to refuse to serve those members of the public they don’t approve of, we need to run it again.

In the New York Times story, we find this rundown of the 2018 decision:

Gay rights groups argued that same-sex couples are entitled to equal treatment from businesses open to the public. …Religious groups responded that the government should not force people to violate their principles in order to make a living.

If this is the linchpin the argument turns on, let’s revisit one Christian baker’s take on this argument:


We were pleasantly shocked to hear an NPR interview with a baker in Mississippi who took a stand against the new state law, signed by Governor Phil Bryant, allowing religious organizations, individuals and businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people if they feel offering such services violates their religious beliefs.

These sexuality laws are identical to the laws that allowed whites to refuse service to blacks in all but one way: the racial laws claimed a biological justification (that black people were biologically inferior to white people), while the sexuality laws claim a religious justification (famously summed up by some anonymous bigot years ago as “God hates fags”).

Somehow the example most commonly used to illustrate the anguish of being a business owner who has to serve someone they don’t approve of is the baker: Christian bakers shouldn’t be forced to bake gay wedding cakes.

This is bogus in all respects, legally and morally. As we said just a few posts ago,

Remember: if you don’t want to serve gay or trans people, don’t open a public business. Once you open a public business, you are obliged to serve the public—no exceptions. There’s no difference between these anti-gay laws and the anti-black laws that kept black people from eating in restaurants with white people, going to movie theaters with white people, and riding city buses with white people. Anti-gay laws are discrimination, and America finally got rid of that curse through the hard work of the civil rights movement in the 1950s-70s. You can’t teach kids in school that Rosa Parks was a hero if you then vote for a law that says you can keep trans people off your bus or out of your bakery.

But why listen to us repeat ourselves when you can listen to Mitchell Moore, a baker in Jackson, MS and an American who understands the civil liberties he has an obligation to uphold as an American:

RENEE MONTAGNE: As a baker, this bill would allow you to refuse service to people you don’t want to bake for. Have you ever felt forced to bake for clients that you didn’t want to serve?

—Right away, Montagne’s question points up the illegitimacy of the sexuality laws. Of course the answer is yes. Bakers, like other people who run public businesses, probably have customers they don’t like, whether it’s because those customers swear, or dress provocatively, have foreign accents, or tattoos, or wear head scarves, smell like marijuana, act rude and condescending, or do any of the other hundred things that can put people off.

But are there laws saying business owners don’t have to serve people whose clothes they don’t like? or smell? or language? No. Only sexuality. So we see immediately that the sexuality laws are singling out one type of potentially problematic customer, which is un-American and illegal under federal law.

MITCHELL MOORE: No, no that is not a problem. I am here to bake cakes and to sell those cakes. I’m not here to decide arbitrarily who deserves my cake and who doesn’t. That’s not what I do. That’s not my job.

MONTAGNE: Have you heard from others that they do have these objections?

MOORE: Not to my knowledge, no. Everyone that I know in the greater, say, wedding-service industry – we’re here to serve. The public’s made up of a lot of people. I don’t have to agree with what they do. I don’t have to support them. I serve them.

—So well-said: “I don’t have to agree with what they do. I don’t have to support them. I serve them.” When did we lose sight of this basic premise?

MONTAGNE: Well, I do gather that you are a Republican. But you oppose this bill. So what are your particular objections, other than it sounds like you don’t think it’s needed?

MOORE: So leaving aside the stupidity of passing it because it decriminalizes discrimination – which, that really is kind of the biggest issue – but I can actually say I think the law of unintended consequences is going to come back to bite the people who signed this bill. If it is my sincerely held religious belief that I shouldn’t serve them, then I can do that. And I can hide behind that language. But that language is so vague it opens a Pandora’s box. And you can’t shut it again.

—Why isn’t Mitchell Moore running for president? Yes, these laws do “decriminalize discrimination”. And yes, claiming religious frailty is just a way of hiding that discrimination and bigotry. And if these sexuality laws are allowed to stand, soon the laws about tattoos and clothing and language will all be crowding the state legislatures, too.

MONTAGNE: Well, do you consider yourself a religious person or would you…


MONTAGNE: …consider that maybe you don’t understand what it means to have a deeply held religious belief?

MOORE: I don’t think that there is such a thing as a deeply held religious belief that you should not serve people. There is no sincerely held religious belief to think that I am better than other people – to think that my sin is different than other people. And so I am a deeply Christian man, and those go counter to my belief system.

—Precisely: “there is no such thing as a deeply held religious belief that you should not serve people.” The Bible doesn’t say anything about who to sell a cake to. Neither does the Koran, or the Torah. And again, if you don’t want to risk violating your religious principles by opening a public business, don’t open one.

MONTAGNE: Why do you think your state elected officials, who presumably think they’re looking out for the best interests of exactly people like you – why do you think that they passed this bill?

MOORE: The assumption that they think that they’re looking out for us – that’s not what they are doing. A report just came out. We rank number one – our state government is the most dependent on federal money. We are the third most obese state. We rank at the bottom in unemployment, in education. We’ve got crumbling infrastructure. None of them are being tackled. Instead, we are passing, hey-let’s-discriminate bills.

—This is the first time we’ve heard someone state this so clearly: state governments that “protect” their people by passing laws that do nothing to stop poverty, illness, and lack of education are really using people’s religion to keep them down.

MONTAGNE: Coming from Mississippi, do you have concerns that this bill reflects on your state in a way that you wouldn’t like it to be seen?

MOORE: Yeah – Mississippi is an amazing place. And it’s filled with amazing people. But if you aren’t from here, if you don’t know that, you’re going to choose to not come here because of bills like this – because you see the state government as taking no action on hundreds of other priorities and taking action instead on trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. It boggles my mind.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you for sharing this with us.

MOORE: Certainly – you’re welcome.

MONTAGNE: Mitchell Moore is a baker, and he owns Campbell’s Bakery in Jackson, Miss.

Anyone want to build a memorial to this Southern hero? We do.

7 thoughts on “Christian bakers, gay cakes: Masterpiece cake shop v. the Constitution

  1. Regrettably the Historic Present adopts a superficial attitude to social issues, asserting that its own views are the only ones worth defending. The argument in the Supreme Court was far more nuanced than is given in your article. The baker did not argue that he baked cakes but that he was a creative artist who chose whether he wanted to act as an agent for a political groups whose views he does not share. It’s the equivalent of asking a Democratc printer to produce a manifesto for – and in praise of – Donald Trump.

    Justice Kennedy made the important point that tolerance is most meaningful when it is mutual’. In this instance the Colorado courts did not respect the rights of the baker to determine for whom he was willing to create his products. This attitude is reinforced by the Historic Present’s dismissive attitude towards the baker’s viewpoint which can be summarised as ‘My way or the Highway’ which is an example of liberal intolerance within which lies the origins of a what became known as Fascism. (In this respect I am referring to the accurate description of the term as described by Mussolini not the Stalinist anti-democratic version which is falsely portrayed in Left wing political circles).

    Underlying the whole argument is the American attachment to money-making irrespective of principle in a free market, restricted by political opinion in accordance with the agenda of specific interest groups. In addition, your aticle failed to mention an important point noted in the original New York Times report that the decision does not set a precedent. Other cases may have a different outcome than this case in which Mr Phillips’ viewpoint was disrepected. The superficiality of your coverage is a testament to the twitterisation of politics. The comparison with the civil rights movement is insulting.

    Whilst as a Christian I take the view that I have enough to do trying to run my own life without trying to run other people’s lives for them I also stand firmly on the principle that I can run my own life more efficiently than any any pc ruling class. Bear in mind the baker did not throw the couple out of his premises, abuse them or refuse to serve them. It will be interesting to see what happens when a Muslim shop owner refuses to serve non-Halal meat. As you may have worked out from the above I work on the principle of ‘live and let live’.

    Underlying the whole argument is the American attachment to money-making irrespective of principle in a free market, restricted by political opinion in accordance with the agenda of specific interest groups. In case you’ve forgotten, ‘The love of money is the root of all evil’.


    1. Hello Dr. Thomas. We stand by our position that if you open a public business you must serve the public. Democratic printers must print pro-Trump manifestos. No public business gets to “determine for whom they are willing to create their products.” If you want that leeway to choose, you must keep your business private. Once you open a public business, you forfeit the right to choose whom you serve. If non-Halal meat is not on the menu, no one is going to order it. That’s exercising selectivity with your product–not your service.

      The principle of “live and let live” is exactly what we at the HP are supporting. Any public business must do the same.


      1. Hi, I’m sorry but you have simply proved my point. The baker regards himself as an artist who takes on commisions if he wishes to not as a public business for eveyone. The most useful comparison is that of an entertainer who may decide to accept a booking or may decline it. On this occasion the baker declined the booking. Hence the superficiality of your argument.

        HP is not supporting the principle of ‘live and let live’, it’s imposing a catch-all ‘live as we define it’ which, ultimately, was the rationale behind the socialist idea that Mussolini defined as Fascism. Tolerance of that of which you approve is not tolerance at all. In addition, you did not acknowledge the fact that the NYT pointed out that the case did not establish a precedent. It was in this particular set of circumstances that the baker’s constitutional rights had been infringed by the Colorado authorities. There is more than one side to the discussion, not the single side you seek to project.

        I would also remind you that Rosa Parks was not the first black person to refuse to accept segregation on buses. She was the public image for the Montgomery Bus Strike but the court case which declared discrimination illegal in 1965 was brought by four other female activists not Parks herself. The comparison with the baker’s case is insulting to the civil rights movement. The latter affected a whole section of society, the former a political interest group. I consider HP has not provided sufficient evidence of genuine research into psychological motivation and social theory to form a defensible position.

        Thanks for the discussion.


      2. One may regard oneself as an artist, but owning a public business makes one a business person who must serve the public.

        Regarding fascism, we have a simple guide light in the U.S. for “defining” our laws and how we live–the founding principles in our Constitution. Relative, yes; but appropriate when applied to life in these United States.


      3. That’s where our experiences differ. In the UK we don’t have a constitution but relay on a common sense of what is appropriate. Regrettably since the UK adopted the practice of pc from the USA the political and social establishment has departed from this practice. In addition, I tend to prefer in-depth discussion of issues rather than what appears in many cases that which I regard as the twitterisation of public debate. Still, to use a phrase which is common where I come from, ‘It wouldn’t do if we were all the same’. Thanks for the exchange.


  2. I am neither a historian nor an attorney, but I happen to be reading “How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It” – part of it it speaks to this very issue (the approach to law in Scotland/UK vs the approach in the US.) Fascinating. What is “right” does evolve in a society or culture over time. How does a legal system remain flexible enough to account for this? Is the term “pc” sort of a snapshot in time as to what “right” is for a given moment for a specific group of people at a specific period of time? Interesting discussion.


    1. Anne, the term pc is not a snapshot of what is ‘right’ for this moment in time. It is an imposition in many cases of a specific narrow view of the world imposed by (for want of a better term) the ruling establishment. The Scottish Enlightment produced many intelligent questioners of what had been previously perceived as reality. Scotland was far from poor but was outward looking yet there is no indication that the ‘Enlightenment’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has altered the fundamental sociology of human behaviour which consists of the good, the bad and the ugly. Who falls into which category, of course, remains a matter of opinion and debate.


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