I normally make my restaurant choices based on factors like price, location, and recommendations from friends or online reviews. But when it comes to bakeries, there may now be an additional factor to consider: the personal beliefs of the baker.
That’s right—bakeries in the United States have become the new battleground for freedom of expression and freedom of religion, which are both protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
It began in 2012 when Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, CO, refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, citing his religious beliefs. Last year, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that he had unlawfully discriminated against the couple.
Apparently trying to make a point, Christian activist Bill Jack then visited Azucar Bakery in Denver and ordered cakes depicting two men holding hands, with an X over them, and the words “God hates gays” (or something to that effect). When baker Marjorie Silva refused—but did offer to provide him with a blank cake and a bag of frosting—Jack sued her for religious discrimination.
I’d just like to say that intolerance against any group has no place in a society trying to resolve its differences. But it really doesn’t belong on delicious baked goods. Can we leave the ganache and butter cream out of this, please?
Silva (who also identifies as Christian) and the Azucar Bakery have since stepped up in their public advocacy for LGBT rights. The bakery now sells “Don’t hate… let’s eat cake” shirts on their website. But interestingly, Silva’s case has support both from advocates of marriage equality, and from conservative Christian groups like Focus on the Family, who are concerned with free speech and would like to see the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision overturned.
The key difference between these cake battles is that, whereas Silva refused to write a message that went against her beliefs, Phillips refused to serve the same-sex couple at all.
As a supporter of marriage equality (and a lover of cake), I want it both ways: I want any happy couple to be able to buy their personalized wedding cake anywhere and I want bakers like Ms. Silva to have the right to refuse requests that violate their values.
But that doesn’t leave any room for the baker who feels that expressing a pro-gay cake message would infringe on their religious beliefs. If cake decoration is an art form, how can we expect bakers to make art they don’t support? So I have to come to the same conclusion as Mark Joseph Stern at Slate, who writes:
“Let’s embrace laws that require bakers to serve any customers who walk into their store… But let’s also embrace the principle…that bakers won’t be forced to write, design, or otherwise depict any message they disagree with.”
That means we’d be able to separate customer service from customer support—yes, a bakery would be expected to serve all customers, but they would not be required to use their artistic talents to write messages they disagreed with. This decision would formalize a practice already in use in all industries that combine service with art (e.g. graphic designers, web developers, writers, or musicians refusing a project that they don’t agree with).
These cases will continue winding their ways through court, but as an avid consumer of baked goods, I also want to take a stand.
I don’t expect bakers to divulge all of their personal beliefs before I consider buying a couple of scones. However, if I can buy from bakeries like Azucar—that make award-winning treats and actively support an issue that I care about—then I will. Who doesn’t love cake that you can feel good about eating?
Katherine Manchester is an international development professional, with roots in Maine and Tanzania. She has written about issues of environmental sustainability and gender. For fun, she enjoys reading and messing around in sailboats.