Marie Antionette’s, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” has been woven into the fabric of an American case in today’s age concerning gay rights and freedom of speech. The cost of regulating free speech is quantified by the emotional, political and economic costs overall. These aspects are weighed against the cost of allowing the speech to flourish. Freedom of speech is a value, not a principle and it is getting harder and harder for the courts to assess it in a political climate in which America remains divided.
In Colorado, a gay couple was denied the right to have a wedding cake made by a baker who seemed to have questioned their religious beliefs by having signed up in the store saying: “We do not bake cakes for gay weddings.”
Many would agree that the idea of freedom of speech is not permitted to say anything anybody thinks outright. It means balancing values of a given view to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse on an equal footing. It includes someone’s humanity and their right to participate in political speech as long as it is not attacked, demeaned or questioned. People should not be shut down due to individual expression. In this instance, many would believe that a right to have equal access to a baker includes freedom of speech or practice.
Colorado civil rights commission found the refusal to bake a cake for the gay couple in violation of its state anti-discrimination law. In the high court, the bakery argued that the lower courts’ findings violate its rights to both religious freedom and free speech. That ruling had the ability to divide people further as some view it as not being an act of free speech but rather one of service and giving rise to an ability to boycott. For such a reason the matter is now going before the Supreme Court and a decision to be made next year in June.
The bakery’s argument is that it has a constitutional right to free expression of religion but does such freedom give it the right to discriminate?
The timeline for such cases in the past has been rejected by the courts in their decision making an application:
- 1960 – a small chain of restaurants said that its owner’s freedom of religion would be violated when it refused to serve black patrons in South Carolina.
- 1983 – a Christian school in North Carolina argued its religious right to refuse black students for admission. In the same case, it was also argued it had a right to deny students who engaged in, or advocated for, interracial dating.
- 1990 – a Christian school in Virginia argued that it had a right to pay women less because their faith taught that men should be heads of households.
The courts rejected all of those arguments in rulings that advocated for religious liberties which did not translate into a right to discriminate. In essence, the Supreme Court’s decision will either accept the cake shop’s religion argument or reject that. For such reasons, the decision may mean that religious liberty could in certain instances provide a way out of the anti-discrimination law.
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