Warping Religious Freedom: America’s Noble Concept Is Pressed Into Bad Service

The Supreme Court will soon hear the case of a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, who insists that he has a right, under the First Amendment, to refuse service to same-sex couples.

Phillips asserts that his religious beliefs preclude him from baking wedding cakes for same-sex couples. His attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) also argue that Phillips is a “cake artist” and can’t be compelled to create something that offends his faith.

Our nation has traveled down this unfortunate road before. Prior to the passage of federal civil rights laws, some business owners in the South refused to serve African Am­eri­cans, interracial couples and others. This type of ugly discrimination was persistent, but it was stamped out. It must not be permitted to rise again in another guise.

It is especially ironic – and disheartening – to hear Phillips and others cite the principle of religious freedom in their defense. That concept is a noble one; indeed, religious freedom is the very foundation of our nation. It is much too important to be draped in the shab­by garment of discrimination. Yet that is what Phillips, ADF and the Religious Right are trying to do.

Religious freedom protects the right of every American to worship (or not) as he or she sees fit. It extends no right to harm others, take away their rights or relegate them to second-class citizenship. Allowing people a right under religious freedom to subject others to ill-treatment wouldn’t just blow a large hole in our civil rights laws, it would debase and demean a vital constitutional concept.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, comes before a court that is often bitterly divided on church-state issues. It’s important that the court get this one right and rule definitively that religious freedom is not a license to discriminate.