Why won’t the government let Jack be wrong?
This question has repeatedly run through my mind over the last few years as I have followed the story of Jack Phillips. Jack is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. He is a man of deep religious convictions who believes that marriage was created by God to be the union of one man and one woman. His beliefs are so strong that they preclude him from supporting gay marriage in his work. As a matter of policy he does not design wedding cakes for gay weddings. For this position he was disciplined by the Colorado civil rights commission which mandated he not only make cakes for same sex weddings but that he and his staff undergo sensitivity training. Convinced that complying with the commission would require him to compromise his beliefs he stopped wedding cakes (which were 40% of his business) and decided to fight the ruling in court. He appealed the decision of the commission all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled narrowly in his favor.
The ink was barely dry on the Supreme Court decision before the Colorado commission again came after Mr. Phillips. His offense this time was a refusal to back a custom cake celebrating the male to female “transition” of a transgender individual. It does not appear to matter to the commission that there are dozens of other bakeries who are willing to bake the types of cakes requested, nor that Mr. Phillips is being targeted by activists opposed to his views. In the eyes of the commissioners, Jack Phillips is a bad man who must be punished.
In understand why people disagree with Mr. Phillips, but I confess I do not understand why he is being singled out by a government agency. The question comes to mind, “Why won’t the commissioners let Jack be wrong?”
This question brings clarity to the debate. Countless columns, opinions and articles have been written about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, each setting forth arguments as to the rightness or wrongness of Mr. Phillips’ position. I think they all miss the point.
The question is not whether or not Mr. Phillips is wrong in his position. The question is, why does the government care? People do wrong things all of the time. One might even argue that the freedom to do wrong and stupid things is at the heart of what it means to be free.
We can find stupid decisions almost anywhere. I recently went to visit a dermatologist who as a matter of policy refuses to see any patient who arrives at the office more than 7 minutes after their scheduled appointment time. The policy is rude, arbitrary, and unkind. No allowances are made for traffic or weather or forgetfulness. If you’re late, you’re not being seen. His policy has cost him patients and resulted in negative Yelp reviews yet he believes he is doing the right thing for his business.
I visited a church recently that has a flier in the pew that reads, “PLEASE, NO CHILDREN IN THE SANCTUARY DURING SERVICES… the age limit for children is 12 years and older…” I imagined how that might feel to a visiting parent of a shy 11 year old who wanted to sit in the service. While I understood the intention, the wording caught me off guard and I considered it offensive.
While I think that both the church and the dermatologist are “wrong”, I understand that they believe they are doing something right. They are free to make decisions in accordance with their beliefs and I have the right to choose to go elsewhere. If anyone forced the church or dermatologist to change their actions, they would no longer be free.
Living in a free society means that we will need to get along with people who disagree with us, people who do things differently than us and who believe differently than us. The day right and wrong are determined by majority rule, the day we are compelled to go along with the masses, will be the day freedom disappears for all of us.
PS- I don’t think Jack is wrong and I have donated to his cause. I am just wondering how we reached the point where our government is so hateful towards one man’s beliefs.