Is there a difference between (1) making a generic cake and selling it to anybody willing to pay for it and (2) using one's artistic talents to create a special cake celebrating an occasion such as a wedding?
That's a key question in a religious liberty case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But that question gets short shrift in a Washington Post overview of the case.
The Post's high court reporter — not a Godbeat pro — wrote the piece headlined "The spurned couple, the baker and the long wait for the Supreme Court."
To begin, the newspaper presents the basic facts of the case involving a baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding celebration. The details will be familiar to GetReligion readers who have followed this case for years:
The incident took only moments.
The journey through the Colorado legal process lasted years.
And then the Supreme Court took its own sweet time. Almost a year passed from the date the court was first asked to review a dispute between a gay couple and a baker who refused to make them a wedding cake and the justices’ announcement that they would do just that.
When the Supreme Court hears the case this fall, it has the potential to be a major decision worth the wait.
Scattered across the country, florists, bakers, photographers and others have claimed that being forced to offer their wedding services to same-sex couples violates their rights of religious liberty and free expression.
Courts have routinely turned down the business owners — as the Colorado Court of Appeals did to cake shop owner Jack C. Phillips in this case — saying that state anti-discrimination laws require businesses that are open to the public to treat all potential customers equally.
Keep reading, and the Post quotes both sides (which we applaud!).
For both sides, there is a question that is always asked.
For the couple, it is why not just go to a bakery that wants your business?
“We did ultimately go to a different bakery,” Mullins said. “The point of this case is that with this law we have in Colorado it is illegal to discriminate against and provide unequal service to gays in public accommodations. The next couple that wanders into a business that perhaps does not approve of their gay lifestyle — perhaps they won’t know that.”
For Phillips, the question is whether his actions really reflect a Christian approach to life. He is asked, What would Jesus do?
“Well, you know, in my opinion — Jesus was a carpenter. I don’t think he would have made a bed for their wedding,” Phillips said. “He would have never condoned something that he was against.”
So what's the problem?
Well, when you read the whole story, you get a pretty clear idea of one side's argument: The gay-rights side see this as a clear case of a baker "refusing to serve" a couple. That's important to note, and it's easy for many journalists to identify with that argument.
But here's what's missing: any kind of clear description of the "free expression" argument on the other side.
As always, journalistic framing comes into play.
As one reader noted in the comments on the Post story, that's ironic since the Post earlier published an op-ed from one of Phillips' attorneys on that exact issue:
The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, is a cake artist who creates custom works of edible art for special occasions such as weddings and birthdays. He serves everyone, no matter their race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. But he cannot create art for events that conflict with his faith. For years, that practice caused no disturbances. But when a couple asked Phillips to create a cake for a same-sex wedding, things got dicey.
He told the requesting couple that he would gladly sell them anything in his store, but designing a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage was not something he could do. Phillips was compelled to decline that request because of his religious conviction that marriage is a husband-wife union — a belief that just two years ago the Supreme Court said is “decent and honorable” and held “in good faith by reasonable and sincere people.”
Artistic freedom is crucial to understanding this case — regardless of whether one agrees with that argument.
Alas, the Post could do a much better job of explaining that.