By Kaihua Zhou | United States
Recently, the Supreme Court determined that Jack Phillips, a baker, had a right to refuse to produce a wedding cake for a gay couple. This decision is based on sound reasoning.
By recognizing Phillips’ freedom of self-expression, the Court honors the right to express themselves. This principle extends to unpopular and even offensive speech. Consider the case of a woman who made highly racist comments to James Ahn, an Asian American, while driving. Such speech is despicable. It is immoral, but not illegal. However, there are situations where moral choices are illegal. Is an individual’s choice to follow their religious beliefs immoral? Most would assert that this choice is praiseworthy. Yet, Sikh service members were forbidden to wear beards and turbans in 1981 despite these gestures being sincere expressions of their faith. Thankfully, two Sikh service members regained this right in 2016. As Americans, we treasure diversity and inclusion. By protecting the Sikhs, we ensure universal protection for all minorities.
This principle extends even farther. In wartime, states have an obligation to protect their citizens. Occasionally, states choose to enact drafts to fulfill this duty. Honoring the principle of self-expression, the United States has exempted consciousness objectors on the basis of “religious training and/or belief.” War presents a clear threat. Yet we honor self-expression even in such dangerous circumstances.
This brings us to Phillips’ case:
David Mullins, one partner in the gay couple, has argued that Phillips denied him “basic access to public life.” This is a compelling argument. Can the state coerce an individual to grant access to public life? Surely, LGBT individuals have a right to particapate in public life. This principle extends to all. Reviewing the Ahn example, Ahn deserved to have his dignity respected. However, he was not. Even if one considers Phillips a bigot, the state respects a bigot’s rights to self-expression, under certain conditions.
Does baking a cake count as self-expression? It certainly is a creative act with an implied message. Phillips considers it to be one:
“I don’t create cakes for Halloween, I wouldn’t create a cake that would be anti-American or disparaging against anybody for any reason, even cakes that would disparage people who identify as LGBT. Cakes have a message and this is one I can’t create”
By creating cakes, Phillips participates in public life. The same can be said of the Sikh service members and conscious objectors. By compelling him ( or any other group) to refrain from self-expression would be limiting his access to public life. Compelling him ( or any other group) to engage in a expression would similarly limit his access. Freedom is for all, not just for those who hold popular opinions. This is true in Phillips’ court case and it is true for all.
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