Turning the tables?

Or maybe just the stomach. According to a story in the Associated Press, a bigot in Colorado went to a baker and demanded a cake in the shape of a Bible with a hateful message about gays on it. When the baker refused, the bigot filed a complaint alleging that she was discriminating against his religious beliefs.

The baker, Marjorie Silva, agreed to bake the cake, but declined to write the hateful message. She did offer to give him the icing and tools to write his own message, but of course that wasn’t good enough for the customer, Bill Jack. Apparently, he was angry about the Denver baker who was charged with discrimination for refusing to serve a gay couple, and was attempting to turn the tables by forcing a less-hateful baker to share in his message of intolerance and discrimination towards gays.

The difference, of course, is that Jack’s message of hate is not a person with human rights. In a free and just society, the law must forbid discrimination against people and groups, especially when those groups are an unpopular minority. There is no law, however, that says hateful and oppressive ideas must be given the same rights and protections as a a person. Thus, while Jack (as a person) has a right to free speech, including hateful speech, he does not have the right to demand that anyone else publish and promote his hateful ideas.

The case is still pending, but barring a great miscarriage of justice, Jack will lose his case. The situation is no different than if he had demanded that a Jewish baker make a cake that said “Heil Hitler” and denied the Holocaust, or if he sent a racist article to a science journal and then sued them for refusing to publish it. His constitutional right to free speech entitles him to make his own statements, but it does not entitle him to force others to make the same statements.

Had the baker said, “I will not bake you any cake at all, because you are Christian,” then he might have a case. Refusing to serve Christians would be a genuine case of discrimination, and would also be the exact tit for tat situation that Jack was attempting to manufacture. He could not do that, though, because no matter how “martyred” he might feel after watching Fox News, Christians are not actually discriminated against in America. The only thing they have to complain about is the fact that the law won’t allow them to deprive others of their liberty and constitutional rights.


  1. says

    IANAL, but I’m not so sure. If we take the position that bakers are there to provide a service for a fee, then the customer should be able to demand pretty much any sort of cake they want, for any purpose they choose (short of cyanide-laced cake to murder their family with). But the baker presumably feels that they are “involved” in some way in the outcome of their work, that they are effectively condoning whatever message is on the cake — whether it’s slurring gays, or wishing a same-sex couple a happy marriage. So I’m not convinced there is a difference of principle between the situations. The baker either does or does not have the right to refuse providing a service that goes against their own conscience.

    However, given my unambiguous sympathies on the matter, I’d be happy to be shown otherwise.

    • says

      If we take the position that bakers are there to provide a service for a fee

      But that’s not really the position we’re taking, is it? The argument has been that bakers who provide a service (making wedding cakes) must provide it to everyone, rather than discriminating against certain customers. Nobody that I’ve seen has been arguing that bakers are legally required to draw candy penises on a cake if that’s what the customer wants.

      • says

        Then we’re taking the other position, which is that bakers have do have some legitimate interest in what goes on the cake, otherwise they’d have no grounds for refusing to draw the candy penis. And if they can refuse to draw the penis, then they can refuse to endorse other things they find objectionable. (One could make the objection that a homophobic slur is a direct act of speech that the baker is being asked to participate in, whereas a wedding cake that happens to be going to a same-sex couple isn’t. But it seems like a narrow distinction — it might even come down to what’s written on the wedding cake).

      • says

        And if they can refuse to draw the penis, then they can refuse to endorse other things they find objectionable.

        The difference is whether the baker would provide the same exact service for a different customer. In the penis example, the baker does not make those for anyone, so it is a service he/she does not provide. To a lesser extent, it would be similar to asking a florist to bake you a cake. However, when a baker makes a wedding cake for a straight couple but refuses to make the exact same cake for a gay couple, it has nothing to do with the message or type of service. The only difference is who is being served.

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