The Supreme Court ruled June 30, that Lorie Smith, right, a...

The Supreme Court ruled June 30, that Lorie Smith, right, a Colorado graphic artist and web designer, can refuse to work with same-sex couples. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

Last month, the West Orange Bakery, a New Jersey shop owned by Orthodox Jews, politely declined to create Pride-themed cakes and cookies. The baker explained that he would happily serve gay customers, but that he could not use his artistic ability to express views that conflicted with his conscience. 

The fallout was swift, with commenters denouncing the baker’s decision and vowing to boycott his store. That much is fair: People are as free to condemn the baker as he is to refuse to endorse their preferred messages.

A few years ago, a conservative commentator made a viral video documenting the apparent refusal of Muslim-owned bakeries in Dearborn, Michigan, to create cakes for the fictional wedding of “Ben and Steven.” The commentator was resentful that Muslims were, in his view, getting a pass while Christian bakers and florists were targeted for declining to create products for same-sex weddings. But he was right: If the Muslim-owned businesses had rejected a real request to supply cakes and floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding, their refusal would likely have violated state law. 

Until, that is, the recent decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that the First Amendment prevents the government from compelling citizens to speak messages that violate their consciences. While some in the press have framed this case as granting Christians special preferences, it's clear that Jews and Muslims who hold similar views will benefit.

The 303 Creative case involved a web designer, Lorie Smith, who argued that the First Amendment prevented Colorado from forcing her to create web pages celebrating same-sex marriages. 

All parties agreed that Smith would not create web pages that expressed a message with which she disagreed. They agreed that Smith would serve all customers regardless of sexual orientation, so long as they did not request her to express a message she considered objectionable. Colorado also admitted that the web pages Smith created would express her personal views on marriage, and that a visitor to her web pages would understand that they represented her original artwork. 

Given these facts, it should be no surprise that religious minorities would celebrate the court’s reaffirmation that the First Amendment prohibits such trespasses by the government. Orthodox members of minority faiths like Judaism and Islam tend to hold views that run counter to the prevailing ethos, especially concerning fundamental issues like sex and gender. These believers are all too aware that their views would be ripe targets for elimination if a regime like Colorado’s had been allowed to stand.

Those who claim this case was decided for the benefit of Christians have missed the mark. They fail to realize that, as communities, religious minorities and immigrants often hold on to their beliefs with more vigor than America’s Protestant majority. Indeed, this very adherence to tradition has sometimes led to ugly signs of intolerance when towns are confronted with the prospect of Jews or Muslims moving in. 

If the Supreme Court had blessed Colorado’s attempt to banish counter-cultural ideas from the public dialogue, there can be little doubt that the same power would eventually be wielded against religious minorities. Understanding this is key to grasping why many Jews and Muslims would celebrate when the Supreme Court shields them from being forced to choose between obeying the state and obeying their conscience.

This guest essay reflects the views of Ismail Royer, director of the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team at the Religious Freedom Institute, and Howard Slugh, general counsel of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty. Both organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the petitioner in 303 Creative v. Elenis.


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