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  • Ashley Baker

Why Every Progressive Should Root for Jack Phillips

Why should progressives hope that Jack Phillips wins the cakeshop case in the U.S. Supreme Court? Because if he loses, the government will have the power to force people to serve causes against their will.

It's not about same-sex marriage. Sure, the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission arose out of a request for a custom wedding cake for a same-sex marriage celebration. But as any lawyer will tell you, a legal decision sets a precedent for a rule of law that applies in all comparable cases, regardless of differences in the background facts. For example, if a public school teacher wins the right not to be fired for her political views, that same right applies to others, regardless of whether their political views shade left or right.

In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the central issue is whether someone can be forced to provide a custom service when that service would offend his moral and religious conscience. (Think of printing signs for the Westboro Baptist Church. Or decorating the stage for a hate rally.) In the case of Jack Phillips, proprietor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the service is custom wedding cake design, and the particular objection is to same-sex weddings. But the rule that emerges from the case will almost certainly not be limited to cake artists or same-sex weddings. And that's a good thing: in this country, the same rules are supposed to apply to everyone.

Ask yourself: Should the government official you hate the most have the power to force a sculptor to create a monument to that official? Or to force a painter to paint a mural celebrating that official's achievements? Or to force a cake artist to prepare a special cake to mark the anniversary of that official's term of office? If Jack wins, the answer will be "No!" But if Jack loses, the artists in these other examples will have a hard time explaining why they should have the freedom not to put their talents in the service of honoring that to which they object.

Some may point out that the Colorado law used against Jack does not apply to political disagreement. That is true -- so far. But if the Supreme Court rules that Jack has no constitutional right to object, then he and every other artist stands at the mercy of whatever restrictions a state or locality chooses to impose. And a ban on discriminating for political reasons is not hard to imagine: Washington, D.C. already lists "political affiliation" alongside race, color, and religion as a forbidden grounds of discrimination.

Others worry that the list of people who could object may be quite long. What about makeup artists and hair stylists, as one Supreme Court justice queried at the oral argument in Jack's case. But the extension of the right to dissent to additional professions is a feature, not a bug, of the First Amendment. Do we want makeup artists to be forced to prepare a white supremacist for a media interview? Do we really want to say a hair stylist cannot object to doing the hair of a proudly misogynist musician? Sure, there will be plenty of folks who will take the money and do the service regardless of who is paying. Those aren't the ones at stake here.

Overbearing government regimes have a history of conscripting artists to create works to honor their regime -- like it or not. That is not the kind of country we live in, thankfully. And to keep it that way, progressives -- indeed, Americans of all political stripes -- should root for Jack Phillips to win freedom, not just for him, but for everyone.


Walter Weber is a contributor at the Committee for Justice (CFJ) and is Senior Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) in Washington, D.C.. However, please note that views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Walter's employer. 


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