Let's be honest: Many voicing opinions about Colorado baker Jack Phillips don't know the facts

Everybody, it seems, has an opinion about Jack Phillips.

But not everybody — trust me on this — has taken the time to review the facts of Phillips' case.

Does the Colorado baker — in whose favor the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 this week — really "refuse service" to gays and lesbians as a matter of general business practice? 

Not according to him.

His position — one that resonated with the court's majority — is more complicated than that.

Yet headlines such as this one in USA Today serve only to fuel the misperception:

Poll: 51% of white evangelicals support business' refusal of service to LGBT customers

Here is the question that the survey covered by the national newspaper asked:

Do you support or oppose allowing a small business owner in your state to refuse to provide products or services to LGBT individuals if doing so violates their religious beliefs?

I have the same concern with that question that I did one asked in a previous survey that I highlighted last year: I'm just not sure it's the right one. There are better questions to get closer to the real issue.

For example, why not ask something like this?: 

Do you support the government forcing a small business owner in your state to create messages that conflict with their religious beliefs if doing so advances the cause of LGBT individuals?

Might the responses to that question be different from the one covered by USA Today?

Lest anyone misunderstand my point, I'll refer (one more time) to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act distinctions between broad discrimination against a class of people and very, very narrow acts of conscience linked to longstanding religious doctrines and religious rites.

As for Phillips specifically, those unfamiliar with his position might appreciate the above Twitter video. If you don't have time to watch it, here's a quick transcription:

Today Show: "Jack, this has been a long road for you. It started back in 2012. Yesterday, you actually heard the words — you heard that verdict. Just tell me what your reaction was to that?"
Jack Phillips, baker: "I was thrilled. The United States Supreme Court has decided that we can try and enter the wedding business again, and realize that I serve everybody. It's just that I don't create cakes for every occasion that people ask me to create."
Today Show: "Kristen, let me ask you because this was a ruling overwhelmingly in Jack's favor — a 7-2 ruling — but many legal scholars have said it's narrow in scope. For somebody who is just watching this morning, does this mean that just any baker or any company could just refuse services to a gay couple on religious grounds now?"
Kristen Waggoner, attorney: "Absolutely not. The court made very clear, as we made clear in our argument before the court, that Jack loves and serves anyone who walks into his store, but he doesn't express all messages. And that was critical for the court's decision. Justice Kennedy made clear that religious hostility by the government has no place in a pluralistic society, and that was critical to his ruling."
Today Show: "Jack, some people may look, and they may think, 'Wow, I think this guy is discriminating. Fifty years ago, it was interracial marriage. You couldn't go in, and some people wouldn't give you goods or services. And now this guy is doing that.' What's your reaction to that?"
Phillips: "I don't discriminate against anybody. I serve everybody that comes into my shop. I just want to say again: I don't create cakes for every message that people ask me to create."
Today Show: "So if a gay couple came in and said, 'We'd like some cupcakes for our wedding ...'"
Phillips: "Absolutely. I told these two men when they came in my store, "I'll sell you cookies, brownies, birthday cakes. I'll make you custom cakes. I'll make anything for you.'"
Today Show: "It's just the art of the cake?"
Phillips: "This cake is a specific cake. ... A wedding is inherently a religious event, and the cake — there is definitely a specific message that goes with that."
Waggoner: "We have to remember that in Jack's case, as the court said, he's an expert baker. So when you go into a cake shop, he sketches, he sculpts, he hand-paints these custom cakes that are one-of-a-kind cakes, and that's what the court dealt with yesterday. It also said that people of goodwill need the space necessary to disagree on this issue. And it's distinguished cases involving interracial marriage in the past with the decent and honorable beliefs of Jack and millions of Americans like him that believe marriage is between a marriage and a woman of all different faiths. Jewish, Muslim ... ."
Today: "There are other cakes I know you don't create on religious grounds, such as?"
Phillips: "I don't create cakes for Halloween. I wouldn't create a cake that would be anti-American or disparaging toward anybody for any reason, even cakes that would disparage people who identify as LGBT. It's just cakes have a message, and this is one I can't create."

Based on that dialogue, how might Phillips himself answer the survey question about whether small business owners should be able to refuse services to LGBT individuals?

Just asking.

 

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