Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A 'license to discriminate' shouldn't be excused by false religious arguments

In a few days, the United States Supreme Court will be hearing the case of a Colorado baker who claims that his religious beliefs should allow him not to serve a gay couple. On it's face - and in the hands of the anti-LGBTQ industry - it is a simple case about a baker supposedly having the right to choose his customers.

But it's so much more:

The bakery’s claims are constitutional ones (free speech, freedom of religion), meaning if they win, they will gain a constitutional right to discriminate that can’t be undone with a legislative fix.
A win for the bakery could extend to any kind of business with a creative or custom element—hair salons, restaurants, florists, uber drivers, school counsellors, etc. So it won’t just be that refrain we sometimes hear about “why don’t they go to another bakery?” it will be that throughout people’s lives, they will have to live in fear of discrimination and humiliation, across a whole range of circumstances, and we won’t be able to pass laws to stop it because this will be legal even when nondiscrimination laws are in place. 
A win for the bakery could allow for discrimination against many types of people, not just LGBT people but people of color, religious minorities, women, etc. Many assume that existing legal protections against racial discrimination and other forms of discrimination won’t or can’t change. But think about the fact that we are in a country considering a wall, a Muslim ban, where the Supreme Court gutted part of the Voting Rights Act, where white supremacists kill protestors and the protestors are blamed, etc. Once we start chipping away at the foundations of nondiscrimination laws, we are in danger. If a bakery can refuse a gay couple, what’s to stop a florist refusing service to an interracial couple celebrating a wedding anniversary? 
We know people support freedom of religion, so that makes them conflicted. But that freedom doesn’t give any of us the right to impose our religious views on others, to harm people, or to discriminate. The bakery owner is still free to believe what he believes and go to the church he goes to. 
. . . if the bakery loses, this does NOT mean a Jewish bakery would need to make a swastika cake (or similar examples). Businesses can decide WHAT to sell (wedding cakes but not swastika cakes) but once they sell something (e.g., wedding cakes) they can’t refuse to serve certain kinds of customers in violation of nondiscrimination laws.

In the context of a nation rocked by racial discrimination at levels unseen in decades, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on December 5th in a case that could gut not only state nondiscrimination laws but also erode the Civil Rights Act—and turn back the clock to a time when businesses could tell people, “we don’t serve your kind here.”

In response, a broad coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), civil rights, racial justice and allied organizations have launched Open to All, a national campaign to focus attention on the far-reaching, dangerous risks of the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case.

In 2012, a gay couple was denied service when they attempted to purchase a cake for their wedding reception. The bakery argues that businesses with a “creative” element should be allowed to refuse service to some people in violation of laws against discrimination. Yet despite the high stakes of the case, it has received relatively little media attention.

“If the Supreme Court gives businesses a constitutional right to discriminate, it would have implications that reach far beyond bakeries,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project (MAP). “If the Court carves out a broad exemption in nondiscrimination laws for so-called ‘creative’ enterprises, we could see an explosion of discrimination by restaurants, hair salons, event venues, funeral parlors and more. And the impact of such a decision wouldn’t be limited to LGBT people; it could be used to allow discrimination against people of color, women, minority faiths, people with disabilities, and others.”

In addition to the ads, the site includes two new MAP resources on the damaging implications of the Masterpiece case, Understanding Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Issue Brief: The Broader Danger of the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case.

The site also features a social media graphics sharing section where users can spread the word and build conversations about the campaign through one-click sharing to Facebook, Twitter and other platforms—as well as a comprehensive list of amicus briefs filed in support of the couple who was discriminated against in this case. Among them, briefs filed by: leading racial justice legal and advocacy organizations, 211 members of Congress, 15 faith and civil rights organizations, 37 leading businesses and organizations, and many others.

Recent research shows that small business owners support protecting LGBT people from discrimination. A new poll released in November 2017 by the Small Business Majority shows that 65% of small business owners believe businesses should not be permitted to deny goods or services to LGBT people based on an owner’s religious beliefs, and 55% of small business owners don’t believe that a business owner should be able to claim an exemption to nondiscrimination laws if they believe serving a customer goes against their right to free artistic expression.

Open to All is nationwide public engagement campaign to build understanding and discussion about the importance of our nation’s nondiscrimination laws—and the bedrock principle that when businesses open their doors to the public, they should be Open to All. For more information and resources, visit You can also find the campaign on social media at @OpentoAllofUS on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Open to All campaign is supported by more than 75 organizations, including MAP, the ACLU, Color of Change, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Anti-Defamation League, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and Freedom for All Americans. A full list of supporting organizations can be found here.

1 comment:

Frank said...

It is telling that the "religious exemption" is really all about same-sex marriage and LGBT's. The religious fundamentalists do not seem to have a problem with adulterers celebrating birthdays, mafia hit-men celebrating anniversaries. Granted there are no perfectly analogous situations...and it is perhaps that uniqueness that makes the whole issue so specifically discriminatory.