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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Castle Rock Christian demands anti-gay cake

You think I'm kidding. See this article.

Who knew that the cutting edge of intellectual freedom and religious freedom would be ... cake decorating? It would be funny if it weren't so sad. 

The bottom line: according to the article, a self-described "Christian" from Castle Rock, CO (the town where I live, alas) went to the Azucar Bakery in Denver to order a "Bible-shaped cake with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake." This man also wanted the cake "to have two men holding hands and an X on top of them."

I like, very much, the actions of Marjorie Silva, the owner. She said she'd make the cake, but preferred not to write that particular message. She offered him icing and a pastry bag so he could do it himself.

Instead, the self-professed Christian filed a claim of discrimination with the Civil Rights Division of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. Why? Because he felt he had been discriminated against as a Christian.

What happened? The claim was rejected.

It's hard to know where to start with this one. But one thing seems eminently clear: this is a ginned-up case.

Nobody believes (to cite a few examples I've heard) that someone should be able to require that a Jewish deli provide food that contaminates a Kosher kitchen, or demand that ice cream parlors serve pancakes (thanks, Suzanne, for that one!).

Non-discrimination means that customers can ask for the usual range of services. Black people should be able to walk into a diner in the South and order off the menu. Gay spouses should be able to book a hotel room in Indiana. So not radical. So obvious.

It happens that I've known a few cake decorators in my time. They are often asked to do things that make them uncomfortable as individuals. One example: "I want Snoopy on my daughter's cake!" But Snoopy is a copyrighted character, and it would be flat-out illegal to provide such a cake. "I want a drawing of a naked babe, legs spread, on the cake for my brother's bachelor party!" and the middle-aged Baptist decorator (let's call her Denise) would ... rather not.

It's all so much simpler than you think. Bakeries sell cakes, and they offer a range of services beyond that. They have templates for what they decorate, and they can do those things well and quickly. Yes, Denise might well stretch her business to do an enthusiastic Confirmation message for a member of her church, and balk at an endorsement of Dan and Stan's nuptials. I'm OK with that: free speech doesn't mean you get to tell other people what they have to say. But Denise still has to sell cakes to anyone who wants to buy them, with the usual range of options.

It's also possible that someone feels so strongly about not wanting to give special messages for gay weddings or bachelor parties that they just say so up front. I'm guessing that gay couples and wild party caterers might then choose to go elsewhere. And I think that's OK, too. The "free market" (albeit not always so free, in my opinion) takes care of a lot of things. But not everything. 

What anti-discrimination means is that cake decorators can't just refuse to sell cakes to people they don't approve of. And diners have to serve the usual fare to anyone who comes in the door. And sometimes, that just wouldn't happen if the law didn't require it.

Finally, I've spent many hours of my life reading and thinking about the world's scriptures. So when Ku Klux Klan members demand that black bakers make cakes (for example) with a lynching decoration, or oh-so-clever litigants try to present straight white Christians as desperately besieged, I think: shame and shame.

Really, would it be so hard just to treat people as people? Would it be so much more painful to be kind rather than nastily clever? And do such angry demands present the face of faith likely to win converts to the best of their beliefs?

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