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A new ‘gay cake’ case is threatening religious freedom in America

As America waits for the outcome of its own 'gay cake' case, the need for better equality legislation has never been stronger, argues James Mildred

One of the USA's most important cases since the landmark abortion hearing Roe vs Wade (1973) is currently being heard in their Supreme Court.

It's very similar to the well-known Ashers case as (if you'll forgive the pun) the ingredients are: a bakery, a cake, a Christian and a same-sex couple.

Back in 2012, Colorado baker and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, refused to custom make a cake for a same-sex marriage. Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the two men who made the order, initiated a campaign of intimidation and sued Phillips. In a subsequent ruling, the Colorado Civil Rights Association said that Jack Phillips had no First Amendment Rights in this case. The Colorado Court of Appeal then said the same thing.

The case has now gone to the US Supreme Court where the nine justices are considering what final decision to make. According to lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) what is at stake is the right of all creative professionals of any faith and none to practise their craft in line with their religious convictions.

In order to obey the ruling from the Civil Rights Commission and stay consistent with his own convictions, Jack Phillips took the difficult and painful decision to stop making any wedding cakes which ordinarily provided 40 per cent of the bakery’s income. He used to employ ten staff, but can now only afford four. 

When the US Supreme Court ruled that gay-marriage was legal in all 50 states, it also said same-sex marriage was a right granted by the Constitution itself. At the time, some of the judges on the Supreme Court strongly dissented at this wording. Scalia was scathing. He called the decision ‘egotistic’ and a ‘judicial putsch’. This Colorado bakery case is the inevitable consequence of that earlier decision. Now the Supreme Court must wrestle with balancing competing rights and freedoms of different minority groups. 

This is yet another situation where the freedoms of different minorities - Christians and gay people - are apparently colliding.

Remember the case of Peter and Hazelmary Bull? They ran a B&B and refused to allow a gay couple to share a room. They were prosecuted and lost their case. At the time, Baroness Hale, then Deputy President of the Supreme Court said that we should be slow to accept Christian discrimination against gay couples. Subsequently she seems to have changed her mind and has since spoken of the need for a Christian conscience clause in legislation.

The outcome of the Colorado bakery case promises to shape future debates about competing rights and religious freedom in America and across the Western world for decades to come

Cases like this will increasingly become the norm on both sides of the Atlantic. The outcome of the Colorado bakery case promises to shape future debates about competing rights and religious freedom in America and across the Western world for decades to come. The decision is that important.

If the judges rule against Phillips it will be a dark day for religious freedom. Not only will the First Amendment have been completely undermined and effectively redefined, but the rights of gay people will be publicly revealed as more important than the rights of an individual Christian. Such an outcome is utterly contemptible. A fair society should not prioritise one group’s rights over another’s.

Cases such as these highlight the absolute necessity of legal protections through legislation for privately run businesses that also hold strong and sincere faith beliefs.

Such accommodation is critical in a truly free and equal society. The problems raised by these cases reflect the need in the UK especially for the law to catch-up. Ours is a society where we talk readily against the discrimination against disabled people, or ethnic minorities, or gay people but refuse to see that Christians are facing persistent discrimination.

Society talks about the discrimination against disabled people, ethnic minorities, or gay people but refuse to see that Christians are facing persistent discrimination

Bad laws need to be changed and updated. At present, our equality legislation is unfair, restrictive, biased and a threat to true freedom of expression. The answer is not to prioritise one minority group over another but to change the legislation to make sure all minority groups are properly protected. 

There are three ways Christians can respond. First, we can pray that the righteous God will bring justice in the case of Mr Phillips. Second, we should campaign for equality legislation here in the UK to be changed to adequately provide protection for freedom of speech, religion and conscience. And third, we must remember that the erosion of these freedoms, while deeply unfortunate from a Christian point of view ultimately changes nothing. We are still to trust and obey Christ and we are to do so through thick and thin.

Whatever the outcome, Jack Phillips and the McArthur’s (from Ashers bakery) are living proof that the grace of God can sustain his people when they are in need. To see the way they have stayed strong in the faith is so encouraging. Even in these cases there is reason to give thanks to God. Now we must pray that proper justice will be administered.

James Mildred is a political commentator and co-host of the Holy Political Podcast

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