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Masterpiece Cakeshop, vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Academic Scholarship

Over the last several decades, Christianity in America has been on the decline. In the name of what people now consider to be tolerance, many American’s have begun to progress past traditional values in an attempt to pursue self-gratification. Instead of looking to God for an objective moral standard, people have begun to rely on their feelings and good intentions as their personal guidelines. As a result, people have become hostile towards the Christian faith; labeling Christians as bigoted and intolerant.

Being a Christian in America use to be much easier. It was considered to be the social norm which made it far more common and acceptable. Now, most Christians feel they need to walk on eggshells in order to avoid being labeled with negative connotations. If my conservative Christian values clash with someone’s non-Christian values, it is rarely a simple disagreement which is up for discussion. Instead, it turns into a dead-end argument filled with fallacious loaded language. For example, you cannot be pro-life, you are now considered anti-women’s rights and a sexist. Or, in the case of my chosen dilemma, you cannot be pro traditional marriage, you are now considered an anti-gay bigot. No matter what the moral topic is, Christians fear they will be targeted for their beliefs. They feel as though people coming out of the closet has put Christianity and its followers into the closet.

The dilemma I have chosen to write on is from the legal case know as Masterpiece Cakeshop, vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC). In the summer of 2012, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins entered the Masterpiece Cake Shop in Lakewood Colorado. The two men requested that Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop, create a cake for their same sex wedding. Acting consistently with his Christian values, Jack Phillips respectfully decline their request as he did not support same sex weddings due to his faith. Mr. Phillips also stated that Colorado did not legally recognize same sex marriages. Unfortunately, the scenario did not end there. Craig and Mullins decided to file a complaint with the CCRC, stating that Phillips violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. Following the court proceedings, the CCRC found Jack Phillips in violation of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. At this point, the CCRC ordered the cakeshop owner to hold thorough staff training on public accommodations and prepare quarterly compliance reports. Luckily, Mr. Phillips did not take this sitting down.

Following the ruling by the CCRC, the case was moved on to the Supreme Court. Jack Phillips’s declared that the state was forcing him to use his talents to make and meaningful statement for the endorsement of same sex marriage. This type of tyranny was in direct violation of the Free Speech Clause. Upon further review, the Supreme Court found the CCRC displayed two instances of hostility towards religion (Christianity).

The first instance of hostility displayed a sense of hypocrisy. According to Aaron M. Streett (Winter 2018-2019) the court discovered there were three past instances in which Colorado bakers refused to create cakes containing religious texts disapproving of homosexuality. However, the CCRC did not act against these bakers for discriminating on the basis of religion. When confronted about these situations, the CCRC were unable to explain why those bakers were in compliance with the law, but Mr. Phillips was in violation. The second instance came about when the CCRC Commissioner stated people have used freedom of religion in the past to justify horrific acts. He then pointed to the Holocaust as an example. Aaron Streett stated that the “Court’s decision was focused on these uniquely offensive remarks, suggesting that the Court’s decision must be narrow because it turned to these presumably rare sentiments (Streett, Winter 2018-2019, p.313).” Both of these instances displayed a lack of neutrality. The end result was and overturned ruling by the Supreme Court in favor of Mr. Phillips and his cake shop.

Throughout life we strive to be the best person we can be. Sometimes the result of that endeavor leads us to rely on God, other times the venture leads us to rely on man (government or ourselves). Striving to make sense out of this vase complex universe is a journey which the greatest minds throughout history have embraced. Emanuel Kant was one of those great minds. No matter what worldview you choose, we all know humans are special creatures with dignity, value, and rights. Kant’s Categorical Imperative is a philosophy that revolves around fairness and ethical duties; duties that require us to treat each other with value, dignity and respect. When we break down the idea of ethical duties, we can separate them into two different categories, Hypothetical Duties and Categorical Duties. Hypothetical duties are duties are intertwined with getting what we want and the process we use to achieve it. Categorical duties are that of a universal state. It correctly implies that there is a universal standard which we all live by. A standard that applies everywhere, to everyone, at all times. This is what most people would call an objective (universal) moral standard. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke touched base on this idea of a Social Contract as well. They both believed a Social Contract is driven by a pursuit to live in safe and productive harmony with neighbors. Hobbes believe it was detached from religious teachings and God; whereas Locke believed in total freedom and God given rights. 

Diving further into Kant’s philosophy, we learn that Kant has broken down the Categorical Imperative into two formulas. The first formula states you are to not make yourself an exception to a rule. Essentially, this formula is telling people to not be a hypocrite but be consistent with the standard they have set forth. The second formula states to treat every person as an end and not a means to an end. What this formula is saying is that we should not use people to get what we want, then throw them to the curb. No matter what your worldview is, Kant’s duties and Categorical Imperative are very good practices to engage in.

Using Kant’s Categorical Imperative, I searched through the legal notes for the case surrounding the Masterpiece Cakeshop, vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC). I came to a few interesting conclusions about the whole ordeal. Coming from a Christian worldview, I do not believe Mr. Phillips was hiding behind his religious beliefs just to show prejudice towards these two men; However, I do believe the CCRC hid behind the law to show prejudice towards Christianity.

As stated earlier in the paper, you will find there are two instances where the CCRC showed animosity towards religion; more specifically, Christianity. Interestingly enough, each one of these instances violated each of the Categorical Duties Kant was referring to. As a result, Mr. Phillips felt his freedom of speech and religion were under attack. To start, I would like to discuss the events that occurred prior to this case. The events I am referring to are the three past instances in which Colorado bakers refused to create cakes containing religious texts disapproving of homosexuality. Mr. Phillips case as well as the other three cases are comprehensible. I believe it is a universal moral sentiment that nobody wants to be forced to violate their personal beliefs. I do not believe virtues and ethics start and stop just because you own a business. The fact these three businesses refused service is not the problem. The problem arose when it came to light that CCRC took no legal action.

Hearing that CCRC surpassed legal action reminded me of Kant’s first formula which states you are to not make yourself an exception to a rule. In this instance, the CCRC decided to make an acceptation to the antidiscrimination act in favor of the three bakers but not Mr. Phillips. The Supreme Court found this to be a dilemma. The court believed these three businesses were treated as an acceptation to the rule as they acted consistently with the CCRC’s ethical code, whereas Mr. Phillips did not. Giving non-Christian companies special treatment over Christian companies shows discrimination towards Christianity. Discrimination towards Christianity is yet another example example of the CCRC believing they above their own law. Effectively, the CCRC made themselves an acceptation to their own antidiscrimination rule.

Next, I would like to touch base on the Instance where the CCRC Commissioner mentioned the Holocaust. We can all agree the holocaust was objectively evil; unless you suffer from absolutophobia which means you can’t bring yourself to admit anything is absolutely wrong. The Commissioner argued that in the past people have used their freedom of religion to commit horrendous acts. On its face this sounds like a logical argument; however, beneath the surface there is an ulterior motive.

First the Supreme Court took into consideration the Commissioner’s history with the three non-Christian bakers. Then, the high court correctly identified the Holocaust example as a uniquely disturbing situation used to jab religious freedom. With these two instances in mind, the Supreme Court felt the Commissioner had engaged in hostile act towards religious freedom. It seems as though the Commissioner used Mr. Phillip’s situation as a means to attack religious freedom. This action violated what is known as a Hypothetical duty; in other words, Mr. Phillips was used as a means to an end.

Justice Kennedy explained, that “even subtle departures from neutrality and even slight suspicion that state action stems from hostility to religion render state action unlawful (Streett, Winter 2018-2019, p.314-315).” Unfortunately for the CCRC, they were deemed guilty of a lack of neutrality. For this purpose (among others), the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Jesus said it best, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:18-19). It seems as though the world is trying to fight their idea of oppression by using more oppression. They need to realize that Christianity is all about loving God first and your neighbors second. Love does not mean agreeing with everyone’s life choices. In fact, being honest with your neighbor about why you disagree with their risky choice is the most loving thing you can do. As this country and its leaders slowly lean away from God, Christians worry that their freedoms and values are in jeopardy. We are not trying to establish a theocracy as we believe salvation is a free choice that you cannot be forced into. All we ask for is the freedom to preach that salvation is freely given through Jesus Christ without fear of persecution. 

Sources

Streett, A. M., Esq. (Winter 2018-2019). Supreme Court review: An analysis of

masterpiece and Janus. Texas Review of Law & Politics, 23(2), 311-319.

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