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The hounding of Jack Phillips

Why the LGBT revolutionaries cannot abide a resister

Baker Jack Phillips works at his shop in Lakewood, Colo. Associated Press/Photo by David Zalubowski

The hounding of Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips has joined the pantheon of notable Supreme Court plaintiffs. He is now famous (or infamous) as the baker of artistic pastry who declined to make a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. In so doing, he cited his Christian faith as a reason for his refusal and appealed to his First Amendment rights.

Mr. Phillips’ experience with the court was mixed. While the nation’s highest court did take his case, they gave him the narrowest victory possible. They protected him from the strong arm of the state of Colorado’s civil rights commission, but only because the commission made no pretense of fair treatment. Instead, the court found that the state of Colorado had acted with contempt rather than even-handedness in the baker’s case.

While the case was technically a win for Phillips, it has turned out to be an invitation to further harassment. The lack of a firm ruling from the court giving substance to Phillips’ rights under either the First Amendment’s free exercise clause or free speech protections left him vulnerable. Hopes that Justice Anthony Kennedy might find a way to reconcile the religious liberty crisis born of his jurisprudence were unfounded. Any Americans who find themselves stuck between regulation and their faith must continue to wonder whether the First Amendment will provide them any relief.

For Jack Phillips, the fame resulting from having a case before the Supreme Court has led only to more heartbreak and trouble. He has been constantly pursued by those determined to make an example of him. Phillips recently lost a subsequent case based on his refusal to make a cake celebrating a transition in gender. The customer, an attorney named Autumn Scardina, made sure Phillips knew the purpose of the cake. He did not object until it was explained to him, making him complicit in its messaging. In other words, the gender transition cake was a well-crafted snare explicitly designed to trap Phillips based on his religious faith.

The Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled against Phillips. Given that the state was warned by the Supreme Court in the earlier case not to engage in flagrant disregard of Phillips’ rights, it is a certainty that they have carried out their persecution of him with clinical precision. It is possible that if he appealed to the highest court, the justices would let Colorado’s action stand. But, unless the justices accept this case and/or others like it and give real substance to the protections of the First Amendment, unnecessary and unwarranted coercion will continue.

The cake is not the point of this exercise. We all know the cake can be had at a hundred other places in Denver. The point is to force his submission.

The great Catholic dean of church-state studies, John Courtney Murray, famously called the two clauses of the First Amendment—the free exercise clause and the establishment clause—“articles of peace.” He meant that when we respect religious liberty, we respect the things that matter the most to our fellow human beings. We purposefully avoid putting them in a pitiless contest between the demands of God and Caesar. Instead, we have often sought to find a way to accommodate human beings who find themselves in such straitened circumstances. Thus, the court, at its best, has cared for the Amish’s practices, the Saturday Sabbatarian’s needs, and the conscientious objector to war.

Would it be possible to avoid crushing the conscience of Jack Phillips? Of course, it would. There is no segregation-style fortress of denial aimed at gay or transgender customers of bakeries or flower shops. Instead, there are only sprinkled here and there those Christians or other religionists whose faith is so integrated with the whole of their lives that they cannot follow the zeitgeist wherever it goes.

Autumn Scardina and the many other gay or transgender customers who seek cakes to celebrate marriages and gender transitions have no lack of options. They are choosing, instead, to be puritanical scolds exhibiting the lie that the LGBT revolution was interested only in simple equality. The reason Jack Phillips has been repeatedly sought out is simple and should not be misunderstood. It is important to those trying to make an example of him that Jack Phillips be forced to bend the knee. The cake is not the point of this exercise. We all know the cake can be had at a hundred other places in Denver. The point is to force his submission.

Christians have been persecuted in the past. There is no guarantee from God or the Bible that such pressures will cease. The reverse is true. Many believers around the globe face martyrdom and coercion even today and even in economically advanced nations. But in a better society, it should not be so. A better society would not need to try to force a good man to his knees for the sake of reinforcing its new consensus. Perhaps it is because that consensus is so questionable in its foundations that a zealous insecurity pervades the actions of its fierce advocates.

Hunter Baker

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the provost and dean of faculty at North Greenville University in South Carolina. He is the author of The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student's Guide, and The System Has a Soul. His work has appeared in a wide variety of other books and journals. He is formally affiliated with Touchstone, the Journal of Markets and Morality, the Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy, and the Land Center at Southwestern Seminary.

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