Let Them Eat Cake...but Not Have to Bake It

Arizona is a hotbed of controversy over a bill that would legally protect businesses that choose to deny services to customers based on religious beliefs.  After clearing the Arizona legislature last week, the bill is now before Governor Jan Brewer, who is facing immense pressure, for and against.  She has still not decided whether to sign the bill into law or veto it.

Is this bill discriminatory, or does it protect religious freedom?

The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.  It is this free exercise of religion that has triggered the Arizona legislation.  A small Colorado bakery was ordered by a judge to bake gay wedding cakes, directly against the Christian beliefs of the owner/baker.  It was not an issue of selling a cake to a gay couple, but instead creating a cake to celebrate a gay wedding.  The baker faces fines or jail if he follows his religious beliefs.  A New Mexico photography company have also been ordered by a court to provide photographic services for a gay wedding, also against their religious beliefs. An Oregon bakery were found guilty of civil rights violations, facing large fines, for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, against their Christian beliefs.

The question boils down to whether a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick-maker can refuse to provide a specific service based on his religion.  Or should the government force such people to provide these services against their religious beliefs?

The above businesses were not refusing to serve gay customers.  A gay couple could have purchased a birthday cake or most any other product, and the photographer would not have objected to taking studio photos of the gay couple.  The refusal was in acknowledging and lending their support to a gay wedding, which is against their religious beliefs and which they find offensive.

Consider these hypothetical situations.  Would a Kosher Jewish bakery be justified in refusing to make bacon muffins?  Or could a Muslim deli refuse to cater a party and serve ham?  Those requests are clearly against their religious teachings.

Some Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis refuse passengers with dogs or alcohol, "because it involves cooperating in sin according to Islam."  After complaints and mediation with the airport commission, the compromise was for these cabbies to offer free rides to blind passengers attending a specific convention -- hardly on the level of the court orders handed down to the bakers and photographers.  Where is the civil rights outrage over the Muslims' exercise of their religious freedom?

Perhaps there are ways to avoid turning this controversy into the ugly and divisive issue it will become if the courts intervene.  Using the power of social media and the free market, gay patrons could simply bring their commerce to businesses friendly, or at least not hostile, to their lifestyle.  Websites and business directories already exist for this purpose.  In Denver, for example, there are over 80 gay-friendly bakeries to choose from, allowing gay couples to be respected and avoid the humiliation from having their cake request refused.  Likewise, other patrons could make the opposite choice, voting with their dollars rather than having the courts decide whose beliefs deserve respect.

Or simply follow the Tenth Amendment, allowing the states to decide issues, such as gay weddings, where the Constitution is silent.  Businesses, conventions, and events can boycott states unfriendly to their beliefs, which is already happening in Arizona.  Even the National Football League has weighed in, threatening to pull the 2015 Super Bowl if the Arizona law passes.  At some point, economic pressures will trump moral or religious beliefs...or perhaps they will not.  But each state can decide, through the legislative process, giving everyone a voice in the decision.  This might be the best way to let everyone “have their cake and eat it too.”

Brian C. Joondeph, M.D., MPS, a Denver-based physician, is an advocate of smaller, more efficient government. Twitter @retinaldoctor.