We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service*

wedding cakeYou’re sitting outside a restaurant, waiting for your date to arrive. After a few minutes, he arrives and you offer him a hug. Holding hands, you walk into the restaurant and tell the maître d’ that you have a reservation for two at 6 o’clock. With a stern look on his face, he says “This is a Christian establishment. We don’t serve gays here.”

In 2012, Jack Phillips, owner and baker of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a gay couple. While he offered to sell them other baked goods, he adamantly told them that he did not create wedding cakes for same-sex marriages due to his religious beliefs. After his refusal, Craig and Mullins filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, stating that they were being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. The Commission ruled in favor of the couple, and Phillips appealed the decision. On Thursday, the Colorado appeals court ruled that Phillips cannot refuse to make a wedding cake for the gay couple based on his religious beliefs.

So if he couldn’t refuse service to them, what does it mean when you see the sign “We reserve the right to refuse service” hanging in the window?

The right to refuse service is not a license to discriminate. Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 strictly prohibits discrimination in any place of public accommodation based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Masterpiece Cakeshop is a store and therefore classifies as a place of public accommodation. The owner Jack Phillips made it clear that he was refusing service based on his personal religious beliefs. Phillips established that he was refusing a service based on his religion and the sexual orientation of the customers, and was therefore found to be discriminating against them.

According to LegalZoom, for a business to lawfully refuse service to a customer, the refusal cannot be based on a protected class, be arbitrary, or applied to one group of people. That seems awfully limiting. However it means that a legitimate reason must be provided for a refusal of service. If the couple had walked into his bakery wearing no shirt and no shoes, Phillips could have refused service based on a dress code or hygiene concerns. If one of the men was being an aggressive jerk, then it could be a refusal based on the safety of himself and his bakery staff. But when a refusal of service is made based on the race, gender, or sexual orientation of the customer, this is when the issue crosses the line from store policy into the violation of state and federal law.

The question that then needs to be answered is at what point do anti-discrimination laws conflict with religious liberties? The law prohibits discrimination based on specific criteria, but the constitution also protects an individual’s freedom of religion. Should the freedom of religion grant an individual the right to discriminate?

The American Civil Liberties Union says it doesn’t. The ACLU pointed out multiple instances in various states where businesses have refused to provide service to LGBT individuals. In these states, there are laws which prohibit discrimination against customers based on their sexual orientation, among other things such as race and gender. The owners of these businesses argue that they shouldn’t have to follow the law because of their personal religious beliefs. The ACLU further points out that this is a slippery slope, because if one business can deny service to a protected class based on their religious belief, that opens up the floodgates for every store to discriminate against their customers. If Phillips could get away with refusing to serve gay couples on religious grounds, then it means he can refuse service to anybody as long as he can find some obscure passage in a 2000 year old book that says he can.

Opponents to the ruling have argued that requiring Phillips to bake wedding cakes for gay couples infringes on his religious beliefs. The Alliance Defending Freedom stated that by exercising his religious freedoms, Phillips is also exercising his freedom of speech. Because he did not agree with the message of gay marriage, he should not be required to promote gay marriage by baking the wedding cake for a homosexual couple.

While there is a conflict of interest between his religious beliefs and the law, the law will always trump religion. If everybody could use religion to justify their actions in the court of law, then someone could get away with murder because their religion told them its okay to kill people. Not to mention people can create religions out of nowhere. Did you know that the Jedi from Star Wars have spawned some form of “religion”?

Because every faith is different, has different beliefs, and different approaches towards various issues, they cannot be used to set a standard of law. America was created with religious freedom in mind, because people did not want religion imposed on them. What Phillips is trying to do is impose his religion on other people. At no time have the customers, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, or the Appeals court imposed a religious belief on Phillips. The law, which is based on equality, is being imposed on Phillips. Unfortunately, the reason why the law has to be forced on him because if everybody could get along, hold hands, and sing Kumbayah, there wouldn’t be an issue of ultra-religious jerks denying a basic service to a paying customer because of who they choose to marry.

Discrimination against people because of how they were born should never be allowed. The laws have evolved to recognize that just because someone loves another person who is the same gender as them doesn’t make them an inferior person. The highest court in America agreed and made it known. For a business to open its doors to the public, offering a variety of services to everybody who walks through their doors, but then single out a loving gay couple and says “nope, you don’t get service” is just wrong. To use religion to justify telling people that they aren’t good enough to be customers is dehumanizing and shameful.

Jack Phillips refused to bake a cake for a marriage he did not believe was legitimate. He even said that “it’s up to God to decide that.” Well we live in America, and in America, we have these things called laws and courts. And when the Supreme Court of the United States said gay marriage is legal, then guess what. Gay marriage is legitimate marriage. Unless God appears and carves the words “yeah, lets not have gay marriage” across George Washington’s face on Mount Rushmore, then it’s not God sending the message. Phillips is sending the message of hate and bigotry, and he is trying to use religion to justify it.

We are decades past the Jim Crow era, yet if you replace the word “gay” with “black,” it shows that this kind of hate and discrimination still exists, just the target has shifted. I just need to change two words in the opening paragraph, and then it reads “This is a White establishment. We don’t serve Blacks here.” If a restaurant did that today, there would be such an uproar on how horrible and racist the maître d’ was. So why is it that when you change the topic from race to religion and sexual orientation, suddenly everything is okay? It’s not, it shouldn’t be, and if you think that it’s okay to belittle LBGT individuals because your religion says to, then maybe you should rethink what your religion stands for, because it certainly isn’t “love thy neighbor.”


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