Refusing to write anti-gay messages on a cake isn’t discrimination (duh)

Last Friday, the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that refusing to write an anti-gay message on a cake does not violate the religious beliefs of the person who requests the anti-gay message.

Duh.

For some background, William Jack, a religious leader in the Colorado town of Castle Rock, had asked Azucar Bakery to bake him a cake that read “God hates gays,” with a picture of two men holding hands with an X on top of them. The owner, Marjorie Silva, refused, offering to instead bake Jack a Bible-shaped cake and provide him with the icing and pastry bag necessary to write the message himself.

This led Jack to file an official complaint, claiming that Silva’s refusal discriminated against him “based on my creed.”

According to TalkingPointsMemo, “Jack is the founder of the Worldview Academy, a camp that teaches ‘Christians to think and live in accord with a biblical worldview.'” So we can safely assume that his religious beliefs, however petty, are deeply-held.

(Not for nothing, if Jack was trying to prove a point a la Memories Pizza, fighting for businesses’ right to refuse service on religious grounds, then shouldn’t he be totally fine with Silva’s refusal to write a religious message she found objectionable?)

In their Friday ruling, the Colorado Civil Rights Division rejected Jack’s claim, saying that since Silva offered to bake the cake — just not to write the message — she had not denied him service, and her handling of the situation would not have been different for any other customer. Jack has vowed to appeal.

That’s a lot of legal effort to prove a really petty point. This level of trolling on the part of Jack shows how silly this debate over religious freedom (to discriminate) has become. Picking a shop at random and forcing them to take a position on a national issue just to attract attention to yourself, and then feigning offense when the shop’s owner handles the situation perfectly, is turning what started as a serious debate about anti-discrimination into a sideshow.

gay marriage wedding cake

Gay marriage via Shutterstock

Especially since one-off non-exchanges of goods for services aren’t what these laws are really about. Helpless florists, bakers, photographers and pizza makers are attractive stories but, as Brian Beutler noted in The New Republic, religious freedom laws let big businesses discriminate, too. And a big business can do a whole lot more discriminating than any one shopkeeper can. So it’s crucial to remember that the RFRAs being proposed and passed around the country aren’t just designed to protect God-fearing moms and pops from Big Gay; without parallel anti-discrimination protections on the books, they open the door for Hobby Lobby to fire an employee who has a same-sex marriage, or who uses an IUD for birth control.

So I’m more than willing to let Memories Pizza pass on the opportunity to sell 100 pizzas for my cousin’s Big Gay Wedding™ — as if they would cater pizza for their wedding — and get tanked on Yelp for doing so. Conservatives are on to something when they say that the market has a way of sorting those things out, and that discrimination really is bad business. What I don’t want is for the progressive movement to get so caught up in the absurdity of each small case that we lose sight of the soul-crushingly plausible big ones.

William Jack is a troll. He doesn’t care about religious liberty; he just cares about his right to make gays and their allies feel bad. The businesses who really do care about “religious liberty” — the ones we really do have to be worried about — aren’t the individuals making big stinks in the news; they’re the corporations who want to bring the Bible into the boardroom.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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28 Responses to “Refusing to write anti-gay messages on a cake isn’t discrimination (duh)”

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  3. Indigo says:

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  4. carp says:

    I comfort myself in remembering what happens when poor people win the lottery. This money will be the worst thing that ever happened to these bigots. I’m sure their phone is ringing off the hook with long-lost relatives who just need a little help, and inevitably they’re going to give it all away to a scammer. They might get a nice car out of it, but that car will be totaled, stolen, or a piece of uncared-for junk within 9 months. They’ll be evicted or foreclosed out of wherever they move to, and in 10 years we’ll be able to do a “where are they now” where they’re just as bad off as they are now, 10 years older, fatter and more toothless, complaining about how unfair everything is.

    Or maybe they’ll invest it responsibly and use it as the seed to improve the lives of themselves and their future generations.

    I’ll take door #1, Monty.

  5. Robert Manders says:

    I just don’t remember reading a verse in the Bible that you will go to hell if you bake a cake for a Gay couple. Its just a cake for God’s sake! The white Christians in the 1960’s pulled this same crap about having to serve black people at their restaurant because God meant for the races to be separate, they also used the Bible to support owning slaves. Its plain and simple, it’s bigotry and discrimination, but Christians have always used the Bible to justify their hatred for someone different and it needs to stop. We cannot continue to the other way and allow discrimination to continue just because it might infringe on someones beliefs, just because someone has belief doesn’t mean its right, just think if the Government did not step in to project the African Americans in this country these so called Christians will still be able restrict who they want to serve. Discrimination is wrong period and needs to stop.

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  8. Houndentenor says:

    It’s rampant and has been a real problem since the last economic crisis in 2008. It’s often couched in terms like “we couldn’t pay you what you are used to.” Yes, because people would rather just not have a job than take a pay cut. For some reason the EEOC just lets this go on. It’s not like they’re even subtle about it.

  9. BeccaM says:

    Re: Age discrimination — yes, it happens all the time. Hell, I just spoke the other day with a woman I know who was turned down for a lab job because they felt she wouldn’t fit in with the team. Not because she was a woman, but because she’s in her late 40s and they conveyed the clear message they wanted young 20-somethings.

    But the kicker is exactly what you pointed out. Despite there being very clear signs of age discrimination coming into play, and possibly gender, too, what she said was she didn’t want to make any noise about it. Because she felt it’d give her a reputation as a troublemaker and thus never get a job in her field again.

    That’s the additional brake on the efficacy of anti-discrimination laws. Quite often the victims are given strong disincentives to avail themselves of the supposed protections.

  10. Houndentenor says:

    Good to know. That would have been my policy. I’m pretty game for just about anything positive. Jesus loves you? Cool. God hates fags? not so much. I think most people understand that.

    As for the rest, the age discrimination law is a fucking joke. The first question on most job applications is date of birth. They don’t know how old you are when they look at the applications? Please.

  11. BeccaM says:

    We can’t force a Jewish print-shop owner to publish KKK literature

    Actually, this is covered under current law. It is not discriminatory to say you won’t print materials which are derogatory towards others. The same cake shop that refuses to print “We Hate Gays” on a cake can also refuse to bake a cake with a swastika on it or which says “We Hate Christians.”

    Refusing to participate in something offensive and derogatory is not a violation of religious rights.

    Or to put it more simply, “I love Jesus” is a protected message. “I hate gays” (or women or Jews or blacks) is not. That isn’t to imply one can’t say those hateful things, but rather that someone can’t under the law compel me to participate in the message of hate.

    As for the employment angle, yeah, you’re right. Just from employment statistics alone, despite all the laws banning discrimination on the basis of race or sex or age or religion, it happens anyway. The older worker isn’t considered ‘dynamic’ enough for the team, the woman just isn’t given a fair chance, and the person with the ‘ethnic’ sounding name doesn’t even get an interview. Even if we put “sexual orientation and gender identity” in that list, it’ll send an important message, but it by no means will solve the problem of discrimination.

  12. Houndentenor says:

    I know they’re not interested in compromising. That was my point. I can offer a reasonable solution and it doesn’t matter because they want all the rights and for me to have none. In fact the same crowd is still pissed that the sodomy laws were found unconstitutional. I do think there needs to be some accommodation about printed matter. We can’t force a Jewish print-shop owner to publish KKK literature.

    One more thing that need to be considered in this discussion. Many states are at-will states meaning that employers are not required to give a reason for terminating employment. Non-discrimination laws can easily become moot in such states except in the rare cases in which an employer is stupid enough to tell you why they let you go. Especially if they wait for the next economic downturn and lay off several people at once. Proving a specific reason when none needed to be offered means proving a case would be next to impossible. (Plus no one is going to hire you while you’re suing your former employer.)

  13. BeccaM says:

    Yeah, but it’s never just the stupid cake. Nor the flowers. Or being forced to endure the apparently intolerable horror of photographing a happy gay couple on their happy wedding day.

    That’s the wedge. And they want to use that wedge to pry open every conceivable means of discriminating against a legally married gay or lesbian couple.

    They’ll open the front on accommodations by saying this good, godly CHRISTIAN bed-and-breakfast cannot abide having a same-sex couple sleeping under their roof. Same with landlords.

    They’ve already set the precedent that a medically-ignorant employer can believe demonstrably wrong things about contraceptives, conclude they’re morally wrong, and take any number of steps to prevent their employee from having access to them. (Mark my words: First, it’s ACA insurance coverage. The next step will be to demand the right to fire women who use them.) Well, they’ll do the same thing with gay folks, including in states with ENDA laws: They’ll first say they don’t want to extend marital benefits (this is already happening, btw). Then they’ll demand the right to fire gay and lesbian employees for the ‘sin’ of marrying. Then they’ll try for overturning the existing state-level ENDAs, based on an assertion of ‘religious beliefs’.

    As you’ve already noted, they’re not interested in compromising. This is the backlash over DADT being repealed and DOMA effectively having been overturned.

  14. Houndentenor says:

    The problem with trying to be a reasonable liberal (see: Obama, Barack) is that you give an inch and they move the goalpost back another 50 yards. You’re right. They have no interest in compromising. I’ve been saying on other forums for some time now that a religious exemption in exchange for full marriage equality is a compromise the gay community would have humped at 10 years ago. But they were winning 10 years ago so why would they compromise. They expect us to respect some imaginary right to discriminate while not recognizing our right to equal protection under the law. I’m tired of it and frankly don’t have any sympathy for any of them. They never had any for gay partners not allowed in the ICU while their long term married-in-all-but-legal-status partner died. Why should I give any fucks that they have to pay a $1000 fine for being bigots. That’s not even close to the same level of suck.

  15. Naja pallida says:

    Except none of this is about compromise, and the people causing the problems have absolutely zero interest in compromise. It’s about classifying bigots as a minority, so they can receive the same protections.

  16. Strepsi says:

    More than selling pizzas?! I’m sure $800,000 is about 100 times what her entire COMPANY is worth.

  17. Houndentenor says:

    I’m tired of defending the rights of people who don’t think I should have any. Yes, they still have them and my opinion doesn’t take them away but I’ll be damned if I’m going to feel sorry for someone who openly hates me. She can eat her pizza in hell for all I care.

  18. Houndentenor says:

    No one ever asked Memories Pizza to cater a gay wedding. A reporter asked her hypothetically if she would. No one was ever actually discriminated against. She also wasn’t under any obligation to flaunt her bigotry. She has made over $800,000 so far from this stunt and I’m pretty sure that’s quite a bit more than she could have made in a week selling pizzas so she’s hardly been put upon over this. I smell a scam, personally, but she’s certainly made out well.

  19. Houndentenor says:

    No, we aren’t. We didn’t pass and push any law in Indiana. The religious right did. We’ve been playing defense for pretty much 35 years now. Yes, a couple sues to get married here or there but almost every ballot initiative or legislative action has been an attempt to block something that enshrined anti-gay bigotry either into the law or the state or federal constitution. We’ve hardly had sight of anything except fighting back against an army of well-organized and well-funded bigoted fucktards.

  20. Houndentenor says:

    I think pretty much everyone would agree to the law not requiring you to write or say things you find objectionable. So, sell the gay couple the wedding cake and let them put the two brides or two grooms on top themselves. A cake is a cake. It’s only the plastic people on top that make it gay. That seems like a perfectly reasonable compromise.

  21. UncleBucky says:

    Right. Settled law, regardless of the “unpopular minority” (interchangable as I see it, one group for another).

    Each small case is proportionately important to the general case, too! :)

  22. UncleBucky says:

    LOOK. Here’s a lovely cake. Here’s the pastry bag. There is enough to practice with and to make the final text whatever you wish. No charge on the pastry bag. BUT I WILL NOT WRITE THE HATE SPEECH YOU WANT ME TO.

    What the heck, thumpers, is wrong with that? I’ll tell you. What’s wrong is thumpers acting like spoiled 9-year olds who can’t get the candy or cake they want WHEN they want it.

    I am pleased as punch that thumpers have lost on this one.

  23. Strepsi says:

    Home Depot’s kitchen department really didn’t work out for Carrie’s mother either.

    http://www.screeninsults.com/images/carrie-crucify.JPG

  24. 2karmanot says:

    I got a splinter in my hand and punctured my finger in the nails bin at Home Depot and am suing because Jesus and the Crucifixion, plus I need $800,000 to heal my religious objections.

  25. Hue-Man says:

    “What I don’t want is for the progressive movement to get so caught up in
    the absurdity of each small case that we lose sight of
    the soul-crushingly plausible big ones.”

    Are progressives really caught up in this sideshow? They may make impressive headlines but the number of blatantly gay-hating businesses is small – on the other hand, I suspect the undeclared gay-hating businesses are probably substantial. Hate is generally bad for business. I find them of interest only as a message to similar businesses about the downside of discrimination. Rarely, is the soundness of state non-discrimination statutes brought into question.

    Here’s the Small Business Administration: “In 2010 there were 27.9 million small businesses, and 18,500 firms with 500 employees or more.” https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/FAQ_Sept_2012.pdf
    A handful of cases out of 18,500 or 28 million is not significant.

    What I’m struggling with is schools, colleges and universities that openly discriminate – what is the policy basis for these institutions to continue their discrimination? How is paying $20,000 to a college for tuition any different than buying a book at Walmart or a wedding bouquet at a florist? I can understand an exemption for religious institutions to train their leaders but not when they are selling product to the general public

  26. Strepsi says:

    @ Jon Green re: “if Jack was trying to prove a point a la Memories Pizza, fighting for businesses’ right to refuse service on religious grounds, then shouldn’t he be totally fine with Silva’s refusal to write a religious message she found objectionable?” No, no, that IS his point: that liberals are hypocrites, who are actually fine with discrimination and just want to force discrimination on ‘people of faith’ because we hate Jesus and America.

    Jon, you’re wrong about “I’m more than willing to let Memories Pizza pass on the opportunity to sell 100 pizzas for my cousin’s Big Gay Wedding™ … Conservatives are on to something when they say that the market has a way of sorting those things out” No. They are not. The ironic-sounding truth is that the market is regulated to KEEP it free.

    It is settled law for 50 years that if an unpopular minority (blacks andn interracial couples in the 60’s, gays now) is willing to pay for a publicly offered service,m the company is obligated to provide that service. Society does not have the right to burden minorities, even unpopular ones, with walking the length of a city trying to find a business to “serve your kind”. What the Conservatives ARE onto is using religious liberty as a means to roll back public accommodations law and other civil legislations. Each small case is important.

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