Most of us never see the moment coming – one that changes life forever. Mine came the afternoon two gentlemen walked into our Masterpiece Cakeshop. Seeing that the rest of the staff was busy, I went out front to greet them and ask how I could be of service.
They wanted me to create a cake that would celebrate their same-sex wedding ceremony. I told them politely that I couldn’t do that. I also offered to provide them with other items from my shop, but they declined and stormed out before I could really say much more.
I was disappointed. That request was not the first custom cake I’ve had to decline. My creativity (like everything else in my life) is understandably influenced by my deep Christian faith. As a result, I don’t create off-color messages, Halloween cakes, or anything else that would compel me to communicate something that contradicts my religious beliefs.
I believe the Bible is very clear on what God intended marriage to be – the union between one man and one woman – so I don’t create cakes for same-sex weddings. I don’t expect everyone else to agree with that belief; I’m only responsible for my own conscience.
I respect other people’s right to make their choices and to decide for themselves what messages they do and don’t want to communicate. I expect them to respect my right to make those decisions, too.
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Often, when I’ve had to say "no," the people asking have let me explain my reasons for declining their request. They didn’t always agree with my views, but they could understand that my problem was not with them as individuals, but with an idea that conflicted with my deepest beliefs. In turn, I recognized their freedom to take their business elsewhere. It’s a mutual respect that was, until recently, fairly commonplace in America.
The two men who came in that summer morning eight years ago, though, were not interested in discussing our differences. They filed a formal complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, charging me with sexual orientation discrimination.
State officials pursued those allegations with obvious contempt for the faith that inspired my decision. Indeed, that contempt was so evident that the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately cited them for abandoning any semblance of tolerance or respect for my religious views. That hostility violated my constitutional right to freely exercise my faith.
Many seem convinced that we can take away the most basic freedoms of people we disagree with … and somehow keep our own.
The high court also noted that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had used a double standard in ruling against me; commissioners expressed no concerns when three other cake shop owners chose not to make cakes expressing opposition to same-sex marriage … though the rationale behind their decision was identical to mine.
Indeed, the prejudices of the commissioners so clearly informed their rulings against me that the Supreme Court reversed that ruling, 7-2. It was a great victory for religious freedom in America, but hardly the end of my legal troubles.
Since that decision three years ago, I’ve faced two more legal actions for similar reasons: an attorney who identifies as transgender asked me to create a cake celebrating a gender transition, and I declined – again, because the cake’s message contradicted my deep religious convictions. The administrative complaint collapsed when it became clear the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was still prejudiced against me. Then, the attorney sued me in state court over the same cake request. I’m now waiting for a final decision from the court in that suit, in which I am again being represented by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.
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Whatever the outcome of this third case, it seems clear that activists intend to keep harassing me – not because the Constitution doesn’t protect my religious freedom and my right to decide for myself what messages I will and will not communicate, but because some people simply disagree with my faith and want to punish me for it.
This could happen to anyone in the current legal atmosphere of religious intolerance. Government officials across America are increasingly coming after anyone who pledges a higher allegiance to God (and their own conscience) than to the current social dogma.
In just the last few years, officials have used the law to persecute photographers and videographers, a floral artist, a T-shirt printer, a nationally respected fire chief … for nothing more than quietly holding to the tenets of a faith practiced by millions for thousands of years.
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That should concern every citizen of this country, whether you hold religious beliefs or not. It’s a government overreach that threatens not only our nation’s legal foundations, but the very soul of what it means to be an American. Yet – incredibly – many seem convinced that we can take away the most basic freedoms of people we disagree with … and somehow keep our own.
It doesn’t work that way, no matter how you slice it. Freedom, I’ve found, is a lot like cake: You can’t have it and eat it, too.