Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Have your cake and read both sides of the story, too

Jack Phillips — the Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding (see past GetReligion critiques of media coverage here, here and here) — is back in the news.

Not just back in the news, but he landed on the front page of the New York Times this week:

The story by Godbeat pro Michael Paulson prompted an email to GetReligion from an evangelical advocate sensitive to the Colorado baker's refusal to violate his religious beliefs.

"This is how it's done," the advocate said.

I don't think he was talking about Phillips' cakes — but rather the balanced nature of the journalism by a publication ("Kellerism," anyone?) criticized by this website for too often leaning to the left its coverage of social issues.

From the start, Paulson's story fairly and accurately portrays Phillips:

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Jack Phillips is a baker whose evangelical Protestant faith informs his business. There are no Halloween treats in his bakery — he does not see devils and witches as a laughing matter. He will not make erotic-themed pastries — they offend his sense of morality. And he declines cake orders for same-sex weddings because he believes Christianity teaches that homosexuality is wrong.
Mr. Phillips, whose refusal two years ago to make a cake for a gay male couple has led to a court battle now getting underway, is one of a small number of wedding vendors across the country who are emerging as the unlikely face of faith-based resistance to same-sex marriage.
The refusals by the religious merchants — bakers, florists and photographers, for example — have been taking place for several years. But now local governments are taking an increasingly hard line on the issue, as legislative debates over whether to protect religious shop owners are overtaken by administrative efforts to punish them.

Keep reading, and the Times provides important background on Phillips' case — and similar legal battles nationwide — while citing the best arguments of each side:

The cases are largely being fought, and some say fueled, by two legal advocacy organizations: the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports same-sex marriage, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, which opposes it. Each side cites bedrock American principles: First Amendment rights of religion and speech versus prohibitions in 21 states against discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation.
“It’s a clear, well-settled proposition that businesses who open the door to the public must serve the public,” said Evan Wolfson, the president of Freedom to Marry, an organization advocating same-sex marriage. “We don’t want Americans walking into businesses and being turned away because of who they are — that’s what nondiscrimination principles mean.”
But the defenders of the shop owners argue that creating an artistically involved or personalized service for a same-sex wedding is a form of expression that should not be compelled by the government. They reject the discrimination charge, noting that many of the businesses have gay and lesbian customers, and, in some cases, employees.
“Anyone who would suggest this is not about freedom of religion doesn’t know or understand what religious liberty is about, which is the freedom to do what your conscience directs,” said Alan Sears, the president of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Folks, this is a tasty piece of journalism: Have your cake and read both sides of the story, too. Kudos to Paulson and the Times.

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