Two big victories for religious liberty in 2018

By Jonathon Van Maren

As religious communities wait with bated breath for the Supreme Court of the United States to deliver a ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that will determine whether bakers and other creators are permitted to refuse to use their talents in the service of an event or cause that conflicts with their conscience, several recent developments have indicated that perhaps Christians have reason to be hopeful.

First, in early January, the Supreme Court refused to hear challenges to Mississippi’s law protecting religious liberty, legislation that gay activists falsely attempted to portray as a way for religious people to discriminate against them:

Lawsuits challenging a new law on the books in Mississippi that protects the religious beliefs of individuals involved in private business as well as government workers called upon to serve same-sex couples in ways they deem inappropriate to their convictions.

The lawsuits, filed by the Campaign for Southern Equality and Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church, came as a result of the passage of the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” (HB 1523), which took effect in the state on October 10, 2017. On June 8 the High Court refused to hear an appeal of an early decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which allowed the law to stand.

The law bars discrimination complaints in Mississippi against businesses, organizations, or individuals that make decisions concerning services based on moral and religious convictions. The statute covers three major issues relative to religious freedoms: 1) that one’s sex or gender is defined at birth and cannot be changed; 2) that marriage is defined as the lifelong union of one man and one woman; and 3) that individuals who embrace those beliefs will be protected against discrimination in the state of Mississippi.

Among the areas covered by the law are issues concerning hiring, adoption, foster care, gender reassignment healthcare, and providing personal services or business, such as baking cakes or providing photography or other services for weddings. Additionally, under the law government employees who issue marriage licenses may recuse themselves from issuing a license to a same-sex couple, with the requirement that the clerks “take all necessary steps to ensure that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.”

Gay activists have promised to continue fighting protections for religious liberty and attempting to overturn this legislation for as long as it takes. It was only a few short years ago that these very same activists were claiming that gay marriage would have no impact whatsoever on the lives of those who still held the Christian view on marriage—but now, a Christian baker who would like to opt out of assisting in the celebration of a gay wedding is, in their minds, a bigot that should be subject to the full force of the law, and driven out of business entirely, if necessary. As I detailed in Chapter 8 of my 2016 book The Culture War, these activists never had any intention of leaving those who disagreed with them alone.

In a second case in early February that is nearly identical to the one currently before the Supreme Court, a California judge ruled that a bakery owner could, in fact, refuse to create a cake for a same-sex wedding because doing so violated her Christian beliefs. As NBC reported:

The decision came after a lawyer for Tastries Bakery in Bakersfield argued that owner Cathy Miller’s right to free speech and free expression of religion trumps the argument that she violated a state anti-discrimination law.

Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe agreed but said Monday his ruling was tied closely to the fact that Miller was being asked to make a cake for an event and that the act of creating it was protected artistic expression.

These developments—both the refusal of the Supreme Court to consider challenges to Mississippi’s religious liberty laws, which is a de facto decision to uphold them, as well as a California judge recognizing the right of a Christian not to use her talents in the service of an event that conflicts with her conscience—are very encouraging. After all, if a baker can win in a California court, of all places, then perhaps a baker can win at the Supreme Court of the United States as well.

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For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.

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