The US Supreme Court has done it again. In a precedent-setting ruling, the court last week came out in support of the right of an individual to act on personal beliefs.
In the case – which the judges described as difficult – the court ruled 7-2 in favour of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins had gone to Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood Colorado to procure a cake for their gay wedding.
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But the shop owner, Jack Phillips – an expert baker and devout Christian – declined, arguing that he could not provide a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage.
The two men filed a complaint at the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which considered the matter and found Phillips guilty of discrimination. The matter went on appeal and finally ended up at the Supreme Court.
Last Monday, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Civil Rights Commission, and consequently those of the lower courts, and upheld Philip’s religious rights.
The Supreme Court argued that “religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views, and in some instances, protected forms of expression.”
Hence, according to the court, Philip was within his personal rights to refuse to bake a cake to celebrate a marriage he sincerely believed to be against his Christian convictions. In an unusual move, the court went further to argue that it is in fact Philips that had been discriminated against.
Apparently, during the Commission’s public hearings, some commissioners had disparaged Phillips’ faith as despicable and characterised it as merely rhetorical. They compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defences of slavery and the Holocaust.
Yet, no commissioners objected to these comments. What is even more interesting – as the Supreme Court pointed out – is that the same State Civil Rights Division presided over at least three other cases in which they argued that a baker acted lawfully in declining to create cakes with decorations that demeaned gay persons or gay marriages.
Thus, according to the Supreme Court, these actions cast a long shadow on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission in the adjudication of Phillips’ case.
This ruling is unique in at least two fronts. First, it is a sheds some light on the question that has oft been raised, as to whether one can be forced, to act against their personal religious convictions.
For example, if a gay couple were to approach a pastor to wed them, and the Pastor refuses on the basis of his or her religious convictions, can the Pastor be considered to have discriminated against the couple?
Even more controversial is where a person seeks services from a person or institution that they know clearly not to subscribe to their beliefs or lifestyles, can they legitimately turn around claiming to have been discriminated against?
Some parents, for example, enrol their children into a school they very well know to be Christian, but then refuse to abide by the school’s requirements, citing discrimination. Can and should this really pass muster?
The second matter of significance in the ruling is its apparent effort to address a growing anti-Christian spirit that seems prevalent across the globe today. While society appears absolutely tolerant of all manner of people and behaviours – even the most absurd or repugnant, it is totally averse to even the most harmless Christian belief and conduct.
That may explain why some commissioners in Philip’s case could openly describe his beliefs as despicable and compare him to a defender of slavery and the Holocaust, yet they readily ruled in favour of other bakers who had declined to create cakes with decorations that demeaned gay persons.
Such double standards are not uncommon in Kenya. Some of such actions are often excused as being part of affirmative action, yet they trample over the convictions of a majority of Kenyans.
What seems to come out clearly is that in a world increasingly becoming a global village, we must each learn to respect and uphold unity and diversity.
No group of individuals can deem themselves to have superior rights to those of others – be they minority or majority.
Thus, though Charlie and David may be perfectly free to do in private whatever they wish with their bodies, they cannot run roughshod against other people’s beliefs and demand public acceptance by fiat.