Let Jack Phillips Bake Cake

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Main Street: Ten years ago secular crusaders began their attempt to silence Jack Phillips for refusing to bake a cake for a same sex marriage. Today their intolerance continues over a cake celebrating gender transition. Image: Alliance Defending Freedom

For a simple Christian who bakes cakes for a living,

Jack Phillips

seems to have a special recipe for getting himself sued.

Mr. Phillips is a co-owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a mom-and-pop operation near Denver in Lakewood, Colo. His courtroom saga began in 2012, when a gay couple requested one of his custom cakes celebrating their wedding. Mr. Phillips declined because of his religious opposition to same-sex marriage. In December 2013 an administrative judge found him guilty of violating the state’s antidiscrimination law. The decision was affirmed by the Colorado Civil Rights Division in 2014 and by a state appeals court in 2015. But in 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the rulings against him because the commission had shown “clear and impermissible hostility” to his religious beliefs.

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store in Lakewood, Colo., March 10, 2014.



Photo:

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

Alas, there are no permanent victories for cake bakers. The same day the Supreme Court agreed to hear that case, a transgender woman named Autumn Scardina ordered another cake—blue on the outside, pink on the inside—intended to celebrate her birthday and her gender transition from male to female. Again Mr. Phillips declined, and last Tuesday a Denver district court judge ruled against him.

“Here, the refusal to provide the bakery item is inextricably intertwined with the refusal to recognize Ms. Scardina as a woman,” wrote Judge

A. Bruce Jones.

He implausibly added that the cake order was not a setup job.

All of which means Mr. Phillips and his second unbaked cake may ultimately be back before the Supreme Court. Which means each side will be again be looking to the Court to issue some Solomonic final resolution that ratifies their preferences.

But the rush to the courts does a disservice not only to the give-and-take of the democratic process but to the greatest force for social cohesion in American life. This is simply the disposition to treat fellow citizens, even those with views we abhor, the way we’d like to be treated ourselves. Millions of Americans routinely do this every year when faced with an obnoxious relative holding forth at the Thanksgiving table.

Certainly there are plenty of intolerant religious people. But no one is more intolerant than the modern left-wing secular crusader, whose views on these cultural issues further enjoy the backing of the media, big business, academe and so on. For the most part, religious communities with old-fashioned positions on human sexuality and abortion no longer expect American society to uphold their views. The aim now is for something far more modest: enough freedom to live their lives and run their institutions in accord with their deepest beliefs.

In some sense this is up to those who have won the war. Here the wisest advice comes from a 2017 article in New York magazine by

Andrew Sullivan,

a firm supporter of the right to gay marriage.

“If there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be—and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it,” he writes.

“One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, ‘How does someone else’s marriage affect me?’ and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change.”

He concludes: “It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core ‘live and let live’ argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.”

Mr. Sullivan was writing about the battle over marriage, but the dynamic he describes so well applies to all the fronts in the culture war. It also points to a fundamental difference between the religious and secular fundamentalists these days. Take the most fire-breathing preacher in backwoods Mississippi. He may rail at what he takes to be the sinful ways of sexually liberated San Francisco. But he’ll largely settle for keeping pornography and Drag Queen Story Hour out of the local library.

By contrast, the progressive in San Francisco is not content with the sexual license his hometown affords. He doesn’t seem to be able to sleep at night unless he knows the local library in some rural Mississippi town has its own Drag Queen Story Hour.

In the same way, it is apparently not enough for a Colorado woman to get a blue-and-pink cake celebrating her gender transition from any of dozens of bakers in her area who are more than happy to bake her one. She wants to force Jack Phillips to make it—precisely because she knows it goes against his beliefs. Yet another testament to why the most egregious exercises of intolerance today are those done in the name of tolerance.

Write to mcgurn@wsj.com.

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