Harassing Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips is the Christian baker in Denver, CO, who the hordes of Mordor continually harass. He has lost again in court and should be in your prayers.

Mr. Phillips was previously sued for refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding. He also won’t make cakes for second weddings after divorce if he is aware of the details nor for Halloween, which he considers a pagan holiday.

Within a mile of Mr. Phillips’ shop are several other bakeries. He is singled out because of his faith. This is persecution. Mr. Phillips believes that to provide goods and services to a gay wedding is to violate his faith in which he sincerely believes marriage is between a man and a woman.

After the Colorado Civil Rights Commission fined Mr. Phillips several years ago and members of that commission compared his refusal to bake a cake to being a Nazi, the United States Supreme Court agreed Mr. Phillips had been unfairly maligned and threw out the case against him.

In an act of retribution, a transgender person demanded Mr. Phillips make a cake for a sex change transition. Again, Mr. Phillips refused. Yesterday, a court again punished Mr. Phillips for trying to exercise his religion through his work.

This will require intervention again by the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Phillips is inarguably being persecuted for his faith. Christians believe in a doctrine of vocation — they are to glorify God in all they do, including their work. Mr. Phillips does not believe he can glorify God while serving those things he believes are an affront to God.

There is, for conservatives, a cautionary moment here, however. Right now, conservatives are agitating for private businesses to do their bidding. Over at National Review, Dan McLaughlin wrote an excellent piece as a rejoined to our mutual friend David French. French argues conservatives are going too far in banning CRT from public schools. McLaughlin and I disagree. But we agree with something French says about the future legal arguments coming from the right. McLaughlin notes that conservatism depends on neutral rules by the state that protect minority rights. If the right can impose on private businesses a ban on diversity training, the left can impose on Jack Phillips a requirement to bake a cake.

Conservatives who dispute this say there is a first amendment angle at play with Phillips, but not bans on diversity training. They stretch outside the current American jurisprudence on the first amendment to argue that. Again, from McLaughlin:

French’s underlying assumption is defensive. He assumes that small-government conservatism will lose more than it wins — an assumption borne out by decades of experience. He also assumes that cultural conservatism will find itself more often in need of protection from governing institutions than running them — also a view supported by recent experience. In a defensive posture, it is vital to have neutral procedural and structural rules to protect the weaker side. By contrast, the new populist Right tends to simply assume that it can and will take over the institutions and the culture— and soon; it therefore rejects the need for neutral rules of constraint, and wholly abandons its defenses. This mindset recalls the French Army’s Plan XVII in 1914, with its ill-conceived insistence on launching an offensive through the center while a vast German army was sweeping down on Paris from the north and every man France could spare was needed to hold the line on the Marne. It is, in other words, foolish.

The things of the world are at war with the things of God and in this world, the world is going to win these fights. God’s team ultimately wins. Victory is already assured. But in the ever-quickening pace to the final day, the world will seem to have the upper hand. Conservatives need to stand with Jack Phillips. Conservatives also need to be smart. When you start using the government to impose your values on others, the other side will do the same. And, frankly, there are more of them than there are of us so we will set the precedents they then use to ban our values altogether unless our precedents require government neutrality. Quoting McLaughlin again:

While conservatives can and should fight the ever-increasing march of the government, it remains vital to argue that individual rights are not surrendered merely because someone interacts with a state that is pervasive: Not every benefit check, subsidy, or program is a lever with which to move the world. This is a sound approach. If, under a right-wing government, private government contractors can be forced to abandon all forms of leftism in diversity training of their workers, then by the same logic, under a left-wing government, Catholic hospitals can be made to perform abortions by virtue of accepting patients with government-subsidized health-care plans. The barrier against giving government this kind of leverage is a neutral, procedural, structural rule: It protects both sides of any argument.

That kind of neutral rule is one of the essential legacies of classical liberalism, with its roots in the Enlightenment and its full flower in the American Founding and the Lincoln-era “Second Founding.” It presumes that all have an equal right to their own religious conscience, and that bad speech should be met with more and better speech. It aims to provide a broad and level playing field on which truth can contend with falsehood, wisdom with foolishness, revelation with heresy. It rejects the notion that official orthodoxies — be they secular or religious — can stamp out dissent.

We need to trust in the Lord, not the government, to fix this. For now, however, as long as we advance an idea that all should be able to be in public spaces and exercise their religion, or not, as they see fit, Jack Phillips should win in the Supreme Court.