This week, I appeared on the CNN special addressing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana. While I have been a long-standing supporter of same-sex marriage, I raised concerns over the dismissive treatment of religious concerns over the scope of anti-discrimination laws and how they may curtail free exercise of religion. I have previously written both columns and academic work on this collision between the two areas of law. In the program, I raised an example of the growing conflicts that we discussed earlier on this blog of a bakery that refused to make a cake deemed insulting to homosexuals while other bakers are objecting to symbols that they view as insulting to their religious views. This issue also came up with an advocate for LGBT rights on the show:
On the show, Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, appeared and gave an excellent case for those opposing this law. The HRC does very good legal work and has a distinguished history advocating LBGT rights. I however was most interested in one exchange with host Christ Cuomo:
Cuomo: Now, Sarah, you’re going to hear people flip this analogy on you and say, “Well, wait a minute, if this were a Jewish baker and some KKK couple came in and said, “We want you to make a cake.” If he said no, well than how would you feel about the situation?
Warbelow: Well, most of these business owners really are providing cakes across the board, but there are a select few who are choosing to discriminate. And there’s a huge difference between having to write something objectionable on a cake and being asked to provide a cake for a same sex couple.
The exchange was interesting between Warbelow seems to suggest that bakers should be able to refuse “something objectionable on a cake” but insists that bakers cannot refuse to make cakes that they find objectionable for same-sex couples. For some religious bakers, a cake with a same-sex image or language is objectionable.
My point is only that we are brushing aside a difficult and unresolved question of where to draw this line. We are all so eager to show (as I did above) that we support homosexual rights and/or same sex marriage, that there is little frank discussion of the obvious conflict with free exercise and free speech. There is also a limited discussion of the difference between certain forms of expressive arts like photography or baking as opposed to less expressions forms like diners or transportation businesses. For example, there does seem a meaningful distinction between serving a gay couple at a diner and a photographer who is asked to participate in a same-sex marriage and celebration in recording the event and arranging photo settings. That does not mean that we would not reach the same conclusion, but we are not having this debate.
I have struggled with this collision between anti-discrimination laws and free speech/free exercise for many years. I still remain uncertain on whether to draw this line between the two cakes that I described. We should have an answer for those citizens who are raising these concerns rather than dismiss them all as bigots. If the HRC is saying that bakers can refuse to make objectionable cakes, we should have a better understanding of when such objections are deemed legitimate and protected. Free speech and free exercise are rights that require bright line rules to avoid the chilling effect of possible criminal or civil liability. We need to be able to explain why the refusal to make one of these cakes is an unlawful form of bigotry and why the other is a permissible form of free speech.
What do you think?