What Happens When My Rights Collide With Yours?
Wedding Cakes, Freedom, and Respect For One Another
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision to hear a religious freedom case involving a Colorado cake maker and a gay couple. In this case, the couple had planned on marrying in another state, but were planning on celebrating in Colorado and requested a wedding cake for the occasion. The Colorado businessman said he had no problem serving the gay couple, but he could not make a wedding cake for them because of his religious convictions that marriage was between a man and a woman. In an interview, he said it wasn’t the first time he had been approached to make a cake for a gay couple, but most respected his religious rights and politely went elsewhere. The couple at the center of this debate filed a complaint and won before the Civil Rights Commission. This is a topic of rights, both of which are valid and the very reason it will be heard by the Supreme Court. Let’s take a look at these rights.
First, the baker respectfully declined making a same sex couple wedding cake because his religious convictions would not allow him to participate in a ceremony of such. Here is the amendment that upholds that right.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The key word here in this amendment is “exercise”. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Now before I go any further, I feel the need to compare it to a different subject that is equally controversial. Abortion. I am a surgical tech. For as long as I can remember, my right to not participate in abortions has been upheld. It is respected at every place where I have been employed, and I have never had to do something I do not want to do. However, there have been times when time constraints have forced me to set up for one in an operating room. This, for me, is uncomfortable. Although I am not required to participate in the procedure, I feel to an extent that I am participating by setting up for it. Does that mean that I have the right to decline a job because I am not comfortable with it? I am not being asked to do the abortion, I am being asked to do my job and arrange the instruments as needed. As an employee of the facility I work for, my requirement is not to do what I think is wrong, but to do what I was employed to do.
Granted, cake baking is not abortion and the two are hardly comparable, but is what the cake baker being asked to do similar to my situation? He is not being asked to marry the couple, he is not being asked to condone it. He is being employed in his trade to create a cake, and it has been argued that as a professional who serves the public, it is his job. This segues us to the other side of the argument. The Public Accommodations Discriminations law that upheld the case for the couple requesting the cake is worded as follows:
Public Accommodations Discrimination
Places of public accommodation include a restaurant, hospital, hotel, retail store and public transportation, among others.
Prohibited discriminatory practices in places of public accommodation must be based on certain protected classes and include these adverse actions: denial of service, terms and conditions, unequal treatment, failure to accommodate and retaliation.
Protected classes for places of public accommodation are: Race, Color, Disability, Sex, Sexual Orientation (including transgender status), National Origin/Ancestry, Creed, Marital Status and Retaliation
Key word here? Public. This act prohibits discrimination practices in places of PUBLIC accommodation. Once a business has agreed to provide a public service, they cannot decline that service to anyone who is public. Now going back to my right to not participate in an abortion. A medical facility is a public provider. Should being an employee of a public provider deny me the right to decline participation in a procedure I feel is wrong? I am not the employer and although I am employed by a public provider, I am not the one rendering services. But as an employee of public service provider, does my employer have the right to tell me that I MUST participate whether it is against my religious beliefs or not? Along the same thinking, does the right of the same sex couple take jurisdiction over the right of the baker?
Instead, my personal conviction is respected and I am not forced to do something I do not want to do.
Things do not always get resolved standing before robed judges waiting for a ruling. If that were the case, we would have a million little laws that make us slaves again and the very freedom we fought for, and continue to fight for, would be lost in red tape.
One piece of valuable information here is the actions of previous customers. They respected the owner’s religious rights and politely went somewhere else. The cake maker treated them respectfully in declining to create a wedding cake. He showed the same respect for his gay clients as he did for his heterosexual clients. The couple who asked for the cake were already allowed to marry but in making that right clear, did they go a step further in denying another man the comfort of his faith to do what he considered right?
The answers to many problems are not always in black and white. Things do not always get resolved standing before robed judges waiting for a ruling. If that were the case, we would have a million little laws that make us slaves again and the very freedom we fought for, and continue to fight for, would be lost in red tape. Sometimes all it takes is a pause, a handshake, a thank you, and maybe a simple thought that the other man’s rights are of equal value to our own.