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Ovation: Colorado Judge Rules Against Discriminating Bakery.

12/09/2013

DiscriminationLawsMany years ago, I worked as a cashier in a movie theater.  I really like the job and most of the people with whom I worked.  There was one older woman that always annoyed me … particularly on really busy Friday or Saturday evenings when new movies were released and people would line up around the building waiting to buy tickets.  Those were the nights that two cashiers would be on duty.  We would work, side by side, selling tickets and making change as quickly as possible so that customers would have time to also buy popcorn and candy inside at the concession stand before their movie started.

On these busy evenings, this old woman would do the most annoying and unbelievable thing.  When she noticed a customer of a particular ethnicity approach her window she would say to me “Switch with me. I don’t want to wait on those people.  I’m afraid to touch their money.”  The first time I heard her say this I thought it was the most hateful, ignorant and racist thing that I had ever heard.  She refused to service these customers because of who they appeared to be.  Of course, not wanting to cause a problem, I would switch windows, wait on the customers and then we would switch back to our original positions.  She I was embarrassed because I knew the people in line could see what had happened.

This story took place almost thirty-five years ago yet, still today, there are people working in the public and operating small businesses under the assumption that they can refuse service to anyone for any reason.  Sadly, those who choose to discriminate in this manner most often do so because of their so called strong religious beliefs.  Most recent reports of this type involve small businesses that call themselves “Christian-based” and government employees who refuse service to same-sex couples who marry in states where these marriages are legal.

Of course these same people, because of their religious convictions, could never refuse service to Jewish, black, Muslim, Hispanic, blind or handicapped customers without legal consequences.  Last Friday, a Colorado judge ruled against the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who last year declined to make a cake for Denver couple Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig as they celebrated their Massachusetts marriage.  The Chicago Tribune published a concise summary of the case in their December 6, 2013 edition.

A Colorado bakery owner illegally discriminated against a gay couple when he refused to bake a wedding cake for the pair last year because of his Christian religious beliefs, a judge ruled on Friday.

Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer ordered Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver, to accommodate same-sex couples or face fines and other possible penalties.

“At first blush, it may seem reasonable that a private business should be able to refuse service to anyone it chooses,” Spencer wrote in his 13-page ruling.

“This view, however, fails to take into account the cost to society and the hurt caused to persons who are denied service simply because of who they are.”

The case involves Charlie Craig and David Mullins, who said Phillips refused to bake a wedding for their wedding celebration when they went to his shop in 2012. The couple was wed in Massachusetts, one of 16 U.S. states that have legalized same-sex marriage, but wanted to have a celebration of their nuptials in Colorado.

Colorado allows civil unions for same-sex couples, but defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Phillips refused to bake the cake, saying his Christian beliefs prevented him from doing so. 

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which ruled that Phillips had violated a state law barring discrimination at public accommodations based on race, gender or sexual orientation. On Friday, Spencer upheld the commission’s findings.

Mullins said in a statement it was “offensive and dehumanizing” when he and Craig were denied service at the bakery. “No one should fear being turned away from a public business because of who they are,” he said.

Phillips has not decided whether to appeal to a higher court, said his attorney, Nicolle Martin.

In July I spoke with Attorney Nicolle Martin at the annual Alliance Defending Freedom conference in California about the charges against the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. Martin says the owner faces up to a year in jail for not baking a cake for the gay couple.

“The complainants can sue him civilly in the regular courts system or he can potentially be prosecuted by the district attorney for up to twelve months in jail.”*

Needless to say, the bakery is calling the ruling “reprehensible”.  They think they should be allowed to discriminate because they, apparently, believe the Bible tells them to do so.

We all have religious convictions.  We all have our own opinion of what is right and what is wrong.  Those with employment, generally, have a job description and are paid to perform specific duties.  While the concept of marriage equality is still difficult for many people, particularly those in small church-based communities who have little to no contact with LGBT individuals, to understand it should be easy to understand that anyone who refuses to do their job can be fired.  County Clerks, for example, who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, regardless of the reason, are clearly refusing to do their job.  Personally, I see no difference between a Colorado Baker in 2012 refusing service to a gay couple and a Woolworth’s in 1960s Alabama refusing service to non-Caucasian customers.

Discrimination is discrimination and it’s always wrong.

*12/11/13 – Updated to clarify that  there are, in fact, no criminal sanctions in any state for violating public accommodation laws and the baker faces only a fine.  If he refuses to pay, he could eventually lose his business license.

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9 Comments
  1. Well said. I was listening to a religious scholar and divinity teacher on NPR last week. This Ph.D went on to say the abundance of the lessons in the Christian bible are about helping your neighbor and those in need rather than someone’s sexual preference. Yet, she notes we seem to spend more time devoted to the latter issue. As I have noted my thoughts in several posts, religion is at its best when it is inclusive and when it excludes it is at its worst. My pet peeve is bigotry from the pulpit that inflame discriminatory and un-Christian-like behavior like the owners of this bakery did.

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    • What I find truly sad is the fact that these bakers didn’t read the Bible themselves and learn to discriminate against same-sex couples, someone taught them to do it. A “religious leader” stood before them on a Sunday morning and told them God said to discriminate. The nerve!

      If they were really to practice Bible-based discrimination, they would probably focus on adulterers, thieves, etc. … you know, folks actually mentioned in the good book. But I imagine they sell cakes for second third and fourth marriages all the time when there’s both a bride and a groom.

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  2. It’s really simple: if you run a PUBLIC business you work with the PUBLIC.
    All of us.

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  3. Interesting – especially in light of a court case here, in our town, in which a florist denied service to a gay couple wanting flowers for their wedding (see the collected works of Bob). They are still in motions but the florist’s defense attorney has been reported as saying, ‘Well all the gay couple is out is a few dollars worth of gas as they could have driven to another florist.’ AND then, not sure of the timing, but an aide to a politician in the next county was asked if a grocery store refused to sell food to a gay couple, would that be okay? And the aide answered, ‘well they could grow their own food.’
    The mind boggles.

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    • The mind certainly does boggle. Frighteningly, these same businesses probably don’t even notice how many customers carry loaded weapons through their doors. But two women in love who want to make a lifelong commitment?! … now that just ain’t right.

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  4. Once you are in a position of “service” (whether it be as someone serving another person or a business owner), you really lose the right to choose who you serve. You can post signs around your business like “No Shirt/No Shoes/No Service” but this is not discriminatory because anyone can be in shirtless or without shoes. I remember working in my parent’s cafe when I was younger & this gent used to come in,he was obviously homeless & smelled. The other customers would turn their noses up at him. He would come in with his small change to get some soup or coffee. At first he tried to sit in at one of the tables, but too many customers complained so we made arrangements with him to always take his food to go. There were times when he smelled so bad & we would get him to knock at the back door & we would wait on him there. We had our regular customers to protect, but we also felt we had a duty to serve him & he was agreeable to helping us whatever way he could. He knew he smelled.

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  5. Lilah permalink

    We all have to do something that goes against our consciences at one time or another, whether it’s paying for a government program you hate with your tax money or it’s serving a customer whose beliefs or behavior offends you. I’m a vegetarian animal rights supporter, and I work at a place that sells fishing poles and tackle, among other things. Do I complain or protest? No, because I have to have a way of bringing home the soy bacon. My advice to the baker: Suck it up, buttercup! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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