Let them (not) bake cakes

Live and let live, my droogies.

I won’t get into the nitty gritty of this latest cake-baking-controversy. The cast of characters is largely the same as the first Great American Baking Show go-round. A baker has once again been caught up in a political storm thanks to his deeply held religious beliefs—beliefs, I should add, that I find rather antiquated and yet still worth defending on religious liberty grounds.

Long story short: After the remarkable victory of the gay rights’ movement that led to the legalization of gay marriage across America, a gay couple requested that Christian fundamentalist baker Jack Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakes in Colorado, bake them a wedding cake.

Phillips refused on religious freedom grounds (as well as on artistic freedom grounds) saying that his beliefs would not allow him to bake a cake for a gay wedding, but that he’d happily still bake cakes for gay customers. He also refuses to bake Halloween cakes—which sounds silly, but there it is. Religion—like much of the radical activism we’re seeing these days—puts funny ideas into peoples’ heads sometimes.

On the day that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case back in 2017, attorney Autumn Scardina placed an order for a cake with Masterpiece Cakes to celebrate her gender transition. She described this move as “calling someone’s bluff” according to ABC, and call it she did. Phillips refused to make the cake, arguing that it would make it appear as though he believed that gender transition—something he claims goes against his religion—is something to be celebrated (especially now that he’s a well-known figure at the center of these debates).

So Scardina has filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination, and Phillips—and his lawyers—are arguing once again that, just like with gay people, he has no problem baking cakes for transgender people, simply not cakes that celebrate something he is religiously opposed to. Scardina’s cake was to be pink on the inside and blue on the outside to symbolize her transition.

This raises a heap of questions, of course. Should the state have the power to compel a private business or individual to craft goods for customers that explicitly go against their religious values? There’s going to be a push-pull here between the freedoms of both groups—the religious freedom of the baker, on the one hand, and the rights of trans people on the other. The question is where the balance should lie.

Once again, it’s worth pointing out that Phillips is not refusing to serve gay or transgender people at his bakery. There would be a very strong case to be made that such a refusal would constitute discrimination. He is merely opposed to baking specific designs that go against his fundamentalist religious values. This is why, for me at least, the needle falls on the religious liberty side of the equation. If he simply refused to serve all gay and/or trans people I don’t think a religious liberty argument would hold water. But that’s not the case here.

I would pose another question: What if a gay baker was asked to bake a cake for one of those “pray the gay away” groups?

Or if a group of white nationalists were throwing a party and asked a Jewish baker to make them a cake with a swastika on it, and the baker refused, would they have a case on discrimination grounds? Or would you side with the baker? Hell, if I were a secular baker I wouldn’t bake a cake with Nazi imagery on it and I’d ask them to please leave my shop. That’s just based on my right as a private citizen to not serve assholes.

What protections do I have under the law to make this choice? Would a victory for Scardina undermine a Jewish baker’s refusal to make a swastika cake? You can see how it could easily cut both ways here if we’re too trigger happy getting what we think we want at the cost of other peoples’ freedoms.

I, diabolical though I may be, would happily bake a gay wedding cake or a transgender celebration cake (if I knew the first thing about baking) but I’m not a religious fundamentalist whose deeply held beliefs would be challenged by this act—at the point of a gun, in this instance, should the lawsuit prevail. There are plenty of other bakeries not run by Mr. Phillips that would happily bake these cakes and pocket the profits.

Of course, another important question is what all this actually achieves. What do activists hope to achieve by targeting Mr. Phillips specifically? Does cancelling someone, or destroying someone’s livelihood, make a difference in the bigger scheme of things? What does victory actually look like?

Will trans people be safer or their rights more intact if this one baker is forced to make a cake? What if this is somehow enshrined in law and a trans baker is then forced to make anti-trans cakes?

I should point out that I’m not defending the baker’s decisions either—merely his right to make those decisions. Why give my business to someone who won’t bake a gay wedding cake or even a Halloween cake? What if I want a Harry Potter cake or a Dungeons & Dragons cake and he won’t make it because magic is the devil’s plaything? What the hell is wrong with the devil’s plaything? We can vote with our wallets in cases like these.

I always return to our national heroes, Bill and Ted, at times like these. “Be excellent to each other” isn’t a bad credo.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote when the first Great Baking Controversy was going on, “if the liberals were more liberal, and the Christians more Christian, this case would never have existed.” And yet here we are again, with more illiberal liberalism and more un-Christian Christianity. Or perhaps less Jesus-like Christianity is the right way to phrase it. I’m pretty sure that Jesus, the man who washed the feet of a prostitute and told the angry mob that “he who has not sinned throw the first stone” wouldn’t balk at baking a cake.

Then again, he probably wouldn’t try to cancel the baker either. “Do unto others” isn’t a bad credo either. Neither is “careful what you wish for.”

Be excellent to each other, my droogies.