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.
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