"...if you tell us we have freedom of speech and freedom of worship but we cannot let religion guide how we do business, that is not religious freedom." -Yaakov Menken, director of the Coalition for Jewish Values
(Washington, DC)—[CBN News] A case with huge repercussions for Christian business owners is hitting the U.S. Supreme Court this week. (Photo: Jack Phillips, baker/via CBN News)
On Tuesday, the justices will hear from Colorado baker Jack Phillips. Five years ago, two gay men entered his Denver bakery to ask him to make them a wedding cake. Phillips politely declined the project since he believes that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman.
"I really had no idea that it could escalate to something like this," Phillips explained. "I just wanted to try and find a polite way to tell them that I couldn't create the cake that they were looking for."
That decision would come back to haunt him.
Shortly after Phillips declined the gay couple's request to make the wedding cake, they filed a complaint, saying that the baker had violated Colorado's anti-discrimination laws. The state's civil rights commission and an appeals court agreed. Those rulings forced Phillips to stop making wedding cakes altogether and cost him 40 percent of his business.
Now it will be up to nine justices to decide whether it was legally OK for him to tell the gay couple "no." And court watchers are wondering if this case could affect the very fabric of the right to freedom of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Phillips' attorney, Kristen Waggoner with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CBN News she thinks tolerance is the strongest argument Phillips has in his favor.
"Regardless of what you believe about marriage if you want to have freedom for yourself you have to extend that to others," she said.
The ACLU and LGBTQ activists say Phillips' decision to refuse to make the cake is all about discrimination. However, others say existing laws already set precedence for the baker's right to refuse to do things that violate his conscience.
The U.S. has a long history of supporting conscience rights. For example, doctors and nurses don't have to perform abortions if they disagree, and pacifists don't have to fight in wars.
Attorney Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, says people don't have to celebrate an event if it violates their conscience.
"Weddings are often religious ceremonies and we don't have any tradition in this country of forcing people, forcing people to celebrate somebody else's religious event," he said.
While no one knows how the justices will rule, everyone knows the decision will have big implications for all faith communities.
Yaakov Menken, director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, said Phillips' case is particularly important for Jews because so much their religious observance is based on their actions.
"Need I tell you that this is dangerous to no one more than Jews because our religion is all about action? The way we tie our shoes in the morning is a religious act," Menken said.
"So no, if you tell us we have freedom of speech and freedom of worship but we cannot let religion guide how we do business, that is not religious freedom," Menken said. "And we Jews have seen this before. We have long, bitter, deadly experience with governments trying to force us to follow earlier versions of political correctness."