With the recent decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals to uphold the fine against Sweet Cakes bakery back in December, the issue is being pulled back to the top of our news feeds once again. The center of this argument is a muddy mess of sides screaming different things. If you ask the bakers this fight is about religious freedom, yet if you ask their opponents it is about civil rights. So which is it? So let’s see if we can answer this burning question.
So what is religious freedom anyway? The Constitution’s wording on the subject is as follows, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It is that second part that is the sticking point for a lot of people on this one. The claim being that the bakers are simply exercising their right to “free exercise” of their religion. The thing is, this act is not an exercise of religion, it is a choice made based on religious prejudice. I use this term in its non-legal sense, simply to state that their choice is made based on a preconceived opinion (that homosexuals are abominations against God) that is not based on reason or actual experience. In this case, it is based on faith and belief in a certain religious viewpoint. Additionally, the tenants of Christianity do not dictate that one cannot make a cake for someone that is an “abomination in the eyes of God.” Nowhere in the bible does it say, “Thou shall not create confections for these abominations.” The sign that they placed on their door (pictured) says, “This is ridiculous that we can not practice our faith.” Horrible grammar aside, the statement is simply untrue. No one has said that they cannot be Christian, or practice Christianity.
So, we can say that it is clearly not a religious freedom issue, as no one has stepped on anyone’s freedom to believe or practice their religion. The question then becomes, is this a civil rights issue?
At the heart of the civil rights argument is the idea of “public accommodation”. Public accommodation is a legal term defined in Title 42, Chapter 126, Subchapter III, Subsection 12181 of the U.S. Code. Does a bakery meet the definition? Well, if we look down the long list of private entities, a bakery is the first entry under item “E” followed by, “grocery store, clothing store, hardware store, shopping center, or other sales or rental establishment.”
So, we have clearly established that the bakery is a public accommodation, which means that it is subject to the laws that affect such. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits public accommodations from discriminating against someone based on race, color, religion, or national origin. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disabilities. These two laws are the starting point for the entire country.
The bakery in question is located in Gresham, Oregon. The law governing this is Oregon Statutes Volume 14, Chapter 659A. It declares it unlawful for a public accommodation to discriminate against anyone on grounds of, “race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, age, disability or familial status.” Interestingly enough, it also directly states that if you are a “bona fide” (registered) church or religious institution (which includes religious schools) then you are allowed to discriminate against sexual orientation. However, our bakery is a public accommodation, not a religious institution.
With all of these simple facts in mind, this issue is clearly a civil rights issue. Not only that, the bakery clearly acted contrary to the laws of the land, and as such the fine handed down on them was perfectly justifiable. It does raise the question, “What about their right to hold the religious belief that it is wrong and that they should not support it in any way?” That’s simple. If you don’t want to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples, don’t open a bakery. It was the choice of the owners to open a public accommodation.
The part about this whole case that really gets to me, however, is not the very simple open and shut nature of the case itself, but rather the way in which people have purported themselves throughout. It wasn’t so much the simple refusal to bake a cake, but rather how the owners responded to the complaint filed against their bakery. They posted a copy of the complaint, complete with personal information, on their Facebook page for the world to see. And that’s when things really got despicable. These two women received death threats over that post, and the whole thing nearly torpedoed their pending adoption.
Also, there was a lot of that same behavior aimed at the bakery owners. Yet it is worth pointing out, no one was posting their personal information all over the internet. Additionally, the amount of money raised in support of the bakery and celebrity it and its owners gained more than offset the fines that they were required to pay. The way these people acted while claiming service to Christianity is heartbreaking. All of my Christian friends have shown, many times over, it is a faith of love, not this kind of hatred.
Their actions are a disservice to the church and Christians across the world, as well as a direct attack on the LGBTQ+ community.