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The Christian Wedding Cake Maker and the Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court today heard arguments in the case of a Christian wedding cake maker sued for not baking a wedding cake for a homosexual couple’s wedding ceremony.  

American, public ethics is often considered on the slenderest of criteria and typically by trying to determine how the virtue of ‘freedom’ should be understood and applied in various cases.  While this line of argument has seen good results in some cases, it often proves to be inadequate for many ethical issues.  At times, there is a conflict of freedom: whose freedom wins over someone else’s freedom?  At other times, it is inadequate as a test to decide a moral issue.  Parental authority, punishment of criminals, decisions about war, and so forth are not considered on the basis of, or merely on the basis of freedom.  Indeed, as the ancient Greeks realised, there are many virtues to consider, not just one or two, and even the cardinal virtues for them totaled four—and they did not include freedom!  (They were: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.)  Neither law nor ethics can be wholly established on a single virtue.

Of course, the key question for the Supreme Court is how to interpret the Constitution of the United States, not first what the right ethical decision is.  Yet the Court will be engaged in the unenviable task of trying to apply a Constitution to a matter of ethics in this case.  It will wrestle with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and equality under the Law.  It will consider in this case the extension of or limitation of its 5 to 4 vote last year to recognise same-sex ‘marriage’ as equal to heterosexual marriage.  Those hoping our Constitution allows us to follow our convictions and live freely will want the Court to release the Christian wedding cake maker to set his own standards for how he makes wedding cakes, lest we all fall under the heavy hand of a State that directs our affairs.

Perhaps the Supreme Court should, as it often does, not only consider the consequences of its interpretation of the law in other, similar cases but also evaluate the various considerations facing analogous but different situations in life.  The following analogies and considerations may be helpful.  

Should the law require:

Service Provider
Professional Considerations
A doctor to treat any patient?
Yes, if the patient needs treatment.  No, if the patient does not need treatment.  The doctor has authority to determine what the patient needs, not what the patient wants.
Necessity Considerations
Grocers to sell food to every purchaser?
Yes, because food is either a necessity or, to a lesser extent, is a commodity everyone consumes (including milkshakes). Yet the grocer may insist that customers conduct themselves in ways that will not hurt business (such as wearing shirts and shoes).
Availability Considerations
An electrician to service everyone who asks for service?
In general, ‘yes,’ since electricity is important for everyday life.  But not if the customer has requires of one electrician what another could more easily provide—such as when the distance to service is less for another electrician.
Company Considerations
A publisher to publish any book?
No.  The publisher chooses what to publish based on external considerations (such as costs vs. profit) and internal considerations (such as reputation of the publisher for certain types of literature).
Freedom of Speech vs. Assisting Other Speech Considerations
A photocopy store to print any material?
No.  Freedom of speech does not extend to helping someone say something that one disagrees with as this would restrict one’s own freedom of speech.
Artistic Considerations
An artist offering services for pay to paint anything a customer commissions?
No.  An artist’s work is not a necessity, such as food.  An artist is valued for his/her free expression of his/her artistic abilities.
Religious Considerations
A butcher to provide kosher or halal meat?
No, not in a pluralistic society.  If the butcher were in a strictly religious society, he/she would not stay in business if he did not cater to the religious restrictions on meat.  In a pluralistic society, he would be offering one service for one clientele while another butcher might offer another service (kosher or hallel) to another clientele.
State Authority Considerations
A farmer to grow a certain type of crop?
No, unless the life of the community is in danger.  Farmers should be free to grow whatever they wish without the interference of the State’s authority.  The State’s authority, in a free society, should be limited to matters of life.
Conscience and Consequences Considerations
A vendor to sell to all persons, without discrimination against a particular group?
Normally, no.  The goal of vendors is to make sales.  The law is normally needed to restrict their activities (what they sell to whom) rather than to coerce them.  A compelling interest to coerce sales cannot be articulated in terms of freedom; it would be a matter of social concerns, such as intolerable consequences, that outweigh individual freedom and conscience.  The State does not exist to force bad people to do good things but to keep bad people from doing bad things.
An artisan to make something for particular persons or groups?
Normally, no.  Artisans are more than vendors in that they produce, not just sell, items and are skilled workers more akin to artists.  If their services are not essential, if they have concerns of conscience or consequences, they ought not be coerced to do things against their consciences.
Multiple Considerations
A Christian wedding cake maker be forced to produce a wedding cake for a homosexual wedding celebration?
No, for professional, necessity, availability, company, freedom not to assist others’ freedom against one’s own, artistry, state authority, conscience, and religious considerations all apply: the Christian baker should not be compelled to bake a wedding cake for these many reasons which we see in other cases.

Perhaps the Christian wedding cake maker’s case is such an interesting case because to force him, as an artisan and artist, to prepare a wedding cake against his religious conscience fails for so many reasons, not just one. He offered to sell anything in his shop to the homosexual couple, and in so doing offered to function as a vendor of goods.  The life of the community is not at stake as cake is not an essential food…  His goods and services are not harmful.  Thus, the State has no compelling reason to interfere.  Other bakers and cake artists are a available to provide their services.  Moreover, religious convictions are not the same as any convictions, as the Constitution recognizes, and the State has a responsibility to defend religious convictions against its own interests and not to coerce practices against those convictions.