About That Baker

By Rev. Kate Braestrup

Recently, a Maine game warden of my acquaintance and his fiancee were happily browsing around downtown Lewiston. A former mill town, Lewiston has been getting progressively shabbier over the years, but it has enjoyed a smidge of revival recently that includes an exotic touch. Former refugees and now citizens,

Somali immigrants have opened up restaurants and shops downtown, and it was into one of these that my young friends wandered.

Among the items on display were very pretty silky scarves in a variety of colors. The warden’s fiancee was in the midst of choosing one of these for purchase when the shop’s owner appeared. In broken English, he informed her that she would not be permitted to buy a scarf. “No, no…not for you. Not for you,” he insisted, taking the scarf from her hands and blocking her view of the rest of the store. Eventually, the couple left without purchasing anything. Later, it was explained to them that the scarves were probably headscarves worn by pious Muslim women and therefore, in some sense, “religious,” and that particular shopkeeper appeared to have a general policy of not doing business with non-Muslims.

Close Up Of Woman In Bakery Decorating Cake With Icing

A gay coffee-shop owner, meanwhile, was videotaped expelling Christian right-to-lifers from his shop. They had been leafleting the neighborhood with signs and  stopped into the shop to refresh themselves; they had not protested or posted signs inside the shop.  Nonetheless, the coffee shop owner  insisted — with many loud, profane declarations — that he had the right as the owner not only to object to their presence but to force them off his premises.

In 2015, a gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, brought suit under Colorado civil rights law against Masterpiece Cakeshop and, specifically, against its Christian owner and chief “cake artist,” Jack Phillips, who had refused to create a custom-made wedding cake for them.  Phillips had never refused service to gays or lesbians, had sold many cakes off-the-shelf to same sex couples and courteously referred Craig and Mullins to one of the many nearby bakeries that would have happily made them their cake.

Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission not only ordered Phillips to make restitution but ordered re-education for him and his staff. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on it Tuesday.

Must a Muslim shopkeeper sell off-the-rack headscarves to non-Muslims?  What if, instead of headscarves, the store specialized in custom-made religious headgear, perhaps custom-embroidered. Could the shopkeeper refuse to sell a headscarf embroidered with “Jesus Loves You?”

Theologically conservative Christians are not alone in their belief that same-sex marriage is morally wrong. Orthodox Jews and Muslims hold similar beliefs. While the more hair-raising and lethal anathemas against homosexual behavior in the Bible have been quietly shelved by Christians and Jews in modern times, those in the Koran and in Sharia law are actively and sometimes homicidally enforced in Muslim countries.

So: Can a gay coffee shop owner refuse to serve lattes to Muslims who, for example, are actively campaigning for the imposition of Sharia law in America? Can a Christian baker refuse to bake a cake for what he suspects to be a forced marriage between an older Muslim man and a Muslim girl? If the Somali store owner is justified in refusing to sell headscarves to presumptive non-Muslims, can a Jewish store owner refuse to sell a Hanukkah candelabra to a non-Jew?

Let us recall, while pondering these questions, that the Christian baker in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case held (and presumably still holds) the same position that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton openly espoused less than a decade ago.

Are we really so confident that “our” views will always dovetail so neatly with those of the government that we cannot imagine a time when we, ourselves, might want the protection of a generously interpreted  First Amendment to constrain the government from imposing itself on us?

Copyright 2017 © Kate Braestrup



  1. From Brian Sullivan on Facebook: I see a lot of wrongdoing in the actions Rev Braestrup describes, which leads me to ask instead, do two or multiple wrongs make a right? I live in Washington DC’s suburbs. A few years ago, I rode the Metro a day or two before Glenn Beck’s racist “Restoring Honor” rally/protest. A group got into my car who were carrying signs with slogans about the evils of socialism. It didn’t stop them from using our public transportation.

    My feeling is that you say what you want, and the more enclosing it is, the more you should expect to hear things you do not want. But however disagreeable our speech becomes, as long as it is not violence or threat all of us need to value the point of view of another and even engage it. You don’t kick people out of your store for wanting headscarves that are intended as a religious expression but you might explain your concern about profanation and hope your customer will respect that. You don’t kick someone out of your coffee shop because they have been protesting against your interests, but you do have the right to talk about those interests with your customers.

    To value the First Amendment is to use it, not to silence your opponents. It’s not a hard concept.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a complicated case, in which many rights collide. There is the right of persons to get service in a public company. There is the right to NOT SPEAK as established by the 1st Amendment (and supported by SCOTUS). There is the notion that things done by the hand are speech and that art is speech (as supported by SCOTUS). There is the point that an issue with gay marriage today was held about inter-racial marriage 30 years ago (Loving vs VA, considered also a violation of biblical teachings). I believe that the SCOTUS will come down on the side of the baker, because “forced” or “compelled” speech is a problem. However, when rights collide, sometimes decisions are made on other grounds. So we will see.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wonder if a baker circa 1977 (that is, ten years after the Loving case) would have been forced to make a wedding cake for an interracial couple? That is, would the couple have simply gone to another bakery? Maybe told all their friends what a bigot the first baker was, and call it good?

    I am not sure that interracial marriage and same sex marriage are exactly the same thing. And I think it muddles the argument to claim that it is. As a society, we are virtually all in agreement that racism is simply wrong, and anyone who thinks that a black person should not be allowed to marry a white person is beyond the pale. This is not true of same sex marriage. Let me just say that I am very much in favor of same sex marriage, but thousands of years of defining marriage in one way (yes, yes, plus polygamy at times) has been overturned in a mere decade or so? It seems to me that, at the very least, people ought to be given a chance to catch their breaths and get used to the new arrangements, and those who don’t want to participate can be excused from doing so without getting stomped by the government.

    I’ve had gay friends who were against same sex marriage —as with so many progressive causes, those on whose behalf the left claims to speak are not all in agreement with the left’s position.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And another question I’d raise is: Wouldn’t we do better if we let interpersonal problems be interpersonal? Do we really need a government and a court system to arbitrate cases like these? So, OK, the courts and some states decided the question on same-gender marriage. Maybe that one needed a government ruling, and it got one. But I’d assert that we would do better at learning to live with each other is we let situations like these — the wedding cake, the head scarf, and all the others you raise — play out person-to-person. Maybe it would be different if there were only one bakery within a couple hundred miles, but that is seldom the case.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Brian Sullivan can’t find his WordPress logon and wants to add this: It isn’t what the Supreme Court decides may be the perimeter of the first amendment that worries me. It is the loss of the civility and toleration that allows us all not to mind the fence.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There is the actual issue (the cake, the baker, the couple, the law) and then there is the overarching principle and here, I think, you’re all onto something: the whole point of a limited government is that it isn’t supposed to adjudicate all of our relationships. Referring problems to the government for solution has become a reflexive first-option rather than the resort when all other institutions (family, church, Kiwanis, the Better Business Bureau or, in this day and age, thumbs-up or thumbs-down reviews on Facebook or whatever) have proven themselves inadequate.

    Obviously, the government has to get in on the act, one way or another, when it comes to the government distribution of government goods —-if the government recognizes any marriages, then it’s logical for gay and lesbian married couples to seek government recognition. But it seems a bit much for the government to intervene and force other citizens to recognize marriages and contribute their time and energy to them.

    I perform weddings fairly regularly, and I reserve the right and the duty to decide whether I am willing to join person X and person Y in matrimony. There are many reasons to bow out and some of them would sound “offensive” or “bigoted” (depending on one’s point of view) to the married persons themselves (e.g. “I think that guy is a wife-beater-in-embryo” or “sorry, I don’t inaugurate “open” marriages”) but in theory, at least, if I am known to be “in business” as an officiant, can I refuse to do so in one case on religious grounds?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Of course, many of our laws are written with an exemption for ordained ministers in situations like those you describe. And, of course, one can buy an instant ordination from a group like the Universal Life Church. https://www.themonastery.org/landing/get-ordained?gclid=Cj0KCQiAgZTRBRDmARIsAJvVWAtWsz-92ktqu6yba6B6tjVad78WG6EIboUFgRNxJfHrrxaRrMl1SpwaAjdzEALw_wcB

    So, if the baker had bought an ordination, could he have gotten the case thrown out?


  7. Thank you for relaying my thoughts, Mel. I just discovered I could use my Facebook account to comment, so that’s what I’ll do.

    There’s a fine line here between artwork and commercial goods. A wedding cake can be said to be a work of art, and therefore a form of speech. The problem I see with that line of reasoning is that if a cake is a work of art, so might be several haute cuisines meals I’ve enjoyed, and thus we’re back to protected class discrimination in restaurants.

    To me, it’s the question Rev Braestrup raises about “can’t interpersonal conflicts stay interpersonal?” that point to why UUism needs more to offer than mighty causes for social justice warriors. We need people to become more than “nice people” if we want a democratic society. In our schools, we need to teach logic and formal reasoning as essential job skills of the voter.; our politics are a lot sloppier than they were a century ago when campaign news traveled by telegraph instead of YouTube. In our civic life, we need people to value toleration, commonwealth, and mercy as much as justice and the righteousness of our causes. I don’t know where you teach mercy and commonwealth more effectively than in a religious institution. UU churches ought to become more than meet-up points for SJW’s. We all urgently have to work on our individual betterment and seed our society with the results that effort bears.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mercy, commonwealth, humility, unselfishness, moral courage, turning outward and considering the experiences of others…so many virtues!

      Here’s an example: after Trump was elected, our churches basically endorsed the notion that “everyone” was unhappy: fearful of the direction the country is going, disappointed in fellow citizens, worried about the future… there were, in fact, Americans and even UUs who were deeply disappointed by Obama’s re-election in 2012. Were our churches solicitous of these folks? Willing to open the sanctuary for therapeutic prayer vigils? Did we even acknowledge that some of our fellow-citizens, perhaps even our co-religionists, might feel alienated by our open jubilation?

      Liked by 2 people

    2. For me, the free-speech and work-of-art arguments are not the most persuasive. More persuasive to me is the free exercise of religion. The baker is not rejecting his would-be customers because of who they are but because they are asking him to perform labor in a cause to which he has strong moral and religious objections. It would be, in effect, forced labor that violates his principles.

      I’d suggest that if we do indeed have a way to transform the liberal religious community into uniformly “nice people,” that would be enough. We are not now nice. We do not now affirm the inherent worth and dignity of everyone. If we did, we’d be working for a world in which the two grooms join the rest of us in a dialogue with the baker. Maybe they’d go ahead and buy a cake from him and decorate it themselves, rather than wallowing in their feelings of rejection. Or simply express their respect for his desire to live by his values and buy the cake from another shop.

      That’s my definition of “nice people,.” Let’s attain that before we start telling everyone else how to behave.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Brian, in this case the baker happily sold cakes to all comers, and would even have made a custom cake for the couple in question.

    What he refused to do was to make it an explicitly gay-wedding-themed cake, rainbow on the top, two plastic grooms, etc. The equivalent of a haute cuisine meal would be a cake without political or religious messaging, which he was willing to bake. SInce the couple were not satisfied with a merely beautiful and delicious cake, but insisted that he make one that expressed approval of same sex marriage, this is very much about forcing the baker to express views he believes to be wrong. Jack Phillips did not make Hallowe’en cakes or Happy Divorce cakes owing to the same set of religious beliefs, and no one is arguing that Hallowe’en lovers or happy divorcees have the right to force him to do so (and, again, he is willing to sell cookies and cakes to both groups). So this is absolutely not about public accommodation and very much about government-forced speech.

    One question I have is whether the couple actively sought out the one, openly Christian baker in all of Colorado and made their request knowing that he would turn them down. In other words, was this a set-up?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not up on the explicit facts of the case either, thanks Rev Kate for explaining them. I think the analogy Brian sets up stands, being when does a commercial service cross into speech? Because we can’t force someone to speak, but we can force them to provide an equal service to all comers not based on religion. If this was a setup fine, it will teach us something about the boundaries of government. If it was a setup it is already way, way past the boundaries of “commonwealth and mercy,” as Brian put it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. If it was a set-up, it was a pretty mean thing to do to someone: the baker (like the florist) is a small-business-owner who wasn’t looking to push his views on anyone, only to follow his own conscience. I hope the case ends in a slam-dunk victory for the First Amendment; if it doesn’t, we should all be deeply concerned and even alarmed.

    A couple of years ago, the co-owner of a pizza parlor in some very small town in Indiana was asked by a reporter the entirely hypothetical question “would you cater a same sex wedding.” The co-owner said no. And all hell broke loose; the pizza parlor was picketed, twitter-mobbed and threatened…over a completely imaginary non-event. At least the government wasn’t involved in that one, so it wasn’t a First Amendment issue, but it was an unpleasant and vindictive episode that tends to reinforce the impression that the activists aren’t just pro-SSM but specifically anti-Christian. (Again, notice that the Muslim pizza parlors aren’t targeted.)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Chaplain Kate,
    I do not know about Jack Phillips in Colorado. I can say that Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Oregon was deliberately targeted by one of the mothers of the brides because they had a Christian tract rack in their shop and advertised in a local Christian newsweekly. The photographer in New Mexico was similarly targeted.
    Ms. Stutzman, owner of the florist shop in Oregon, was not deliberately targeted; it was only later that friends of one of the grooms pressured him into talking to the activists who encouraged him to file his complaint.
    In none of these cases was there a lawsuit between the parties. What happened in each instance was the complainants leveraging the weight of the State to crush independent Christian business owners.

    Liked by 1 person

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