Masterpiece Theater: SCOTUS Debates Cake Baker's Rights
After five long years of fighting, an hour and a half at the Supreme Court could be all it takes to redefine religious liberty in America. That’s how long Jack Phillips stood before the most powerful justices in the country and asked for the freedom already guaranteed to him in a document barely a mile away. Ironically, the Christian baker, who came before the court as a symbol of thousands of men and women of faith, wasn’t demanding anything liberals don’t already enjoy. He simply asked for the same tolerance to live and work according to his beliefs.
Like too many Americans, he lost that freedom when his conscience clashed with same-sex marriage. After Jack turned down a wedding order from two men, the Phillipses’ lives were forever changed. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission swooped in and hauled Jack to court. Surrendering his beliefs, Jack was told, is the price of doing business. Liberals, meanwhile, went to work destroying his shop, Masterpiece Cakes, launching a fierce social media campaign in an attempt to syphon off customers. Phillips eventually stopped creating any wedding cakes as the case made its way through the courts — a decision that cost his family 40 percent of its income.
Outside the Supreme Court, Jack explained, “Though I serve everyone who comes into my shop, like many other creative professionals, I don’t create custom designs for events or messages that conflict with my conscience… I am here at the Supreme Court today because I respectfully declined to create a custom cake that would celebrate a view of marriage in direct conflict with my faith’s core teachings on marriage. I offered to sell the two gentlemen suing me anything else in my shop or to design a cake for them for another occasion.” It’s hard to believe, he went on, “that the government is forcing me to choose between providing for my family and employees and violating my relationship with God. That is not freedom. That is not tolerance.”
Inside the courtroom, FRC’s Travis Weber listened as the justices grilled Jack’s attorney, Alliance Defending Freedom’s Kristen Waggoner, about what, exactly, constituted an “artist.” “What about a florist, a chef or a makeup artist?” Justice Elana Kagan asked. Obviously, Justice Stephen Breyer said, “we want a distinction that will not undermine every single civil rights law.” As U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco stepped up to continue the argument for Masterpiece, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was openly hostile to Jack’s position, arguing that protecting him would result in a gay couple being “left on the side of the highway.”
For the majority of the hearing, however, all eyes were on Justice Anthony Kennedy, largely considered the swing vote on the case. Although his same-sex allegiances led to a complete redefinition of marriage, most everyone knows the longtime justice is passionate about protecting free speech. And he proved it, pouncing on Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger, who insisted that what Jack had done was “despicable,” calling this “hostility to religion.”
“Counselor,” Kennedy fired back, “tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs…”
“There are,” he went on, “other shops.” Justice Samuel Alito piled on, asking why Colorado would let other bakers off the hook for declining other messages, but punished Jack — especially when same-sex marriage was still unlawful in the state at the time! Even Justice Breyer asked state officials how it thought it should protect religious freedom in this scenario.
If the Left’s reaction to yesterday’s arguments is any indication, Kennedy was not the champion liberals were hoping for. The justice who delivered Obergefell into the Left’s hands “appears to be floating two entirely separate rationales for a decision in favor of Mr. Phillips here,” ThinkProgress bemoaned in an article called “LGBTQ Rights Just Had a Horrible Day in the Supreme Court.” “One could potentially be quite narrow, invalidating this particular ruling due to poorly worded statements by one or two state commissioners, but leaving intact Colorado and other states’ ability to enforce their civil rights laws so long as their watch their tongues. The other rationale, meanwhile, could be extraordinarily sweeping…”
If Justice Kennedy sides with Jack, he wouldn’t be the only one. Americans overwhelmingly do — 68 percent, to be exact. So does the Trump administration, which, in a historic brief, became the first administration to fight a so-called “anti-discrimination” law in court. Another 86 members of Congress joined in, filing their own defense of religious liberty.
As Americans, consensus on religious freedom has historically recognized our God-given right to live all aspects of their lives according to their faith. That hasn’t changed. Attempting to confine religious conviction to the four walls of a church isn’t freedom, it’s tyranny. Let’s pray the Supreme Court agrees.
For more from the landmark case, check out my remarks at yesterday’s rally and Travis’s reaction immediately after oral arguments.
Originally published here.
Democrats Only See Death in Taxes
On Monday night, the GOP tax bill took another step toward President Trump’s desk when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), named nine members to the conference committee, including Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX). The Senate is expected to name their negotiators later this week as the two chambers work to reconcile their respective versions of the bill. As the bill moves forward, Democrats are becoming increasingly frantic — and apocalyptic — in their efforts to derail tax reform.
“[This bill] is the worst bill in the history of the United States Congress," claimed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during House floor debates on the tax bill. She clarified later during a press conference: "No, it is the end of the world… This is Armageddon.”
It’s unclear which parts of the GOP tax bill signal the four horsemen of Pelosi’s prophesied apocalypse. Maybe it’s the increase in the child tax credit, which the House bumped up to $1,600 per child (and the Senate raised even further to $2,000). This legislation would provide critical relief for working families, but for the Democrats, that relief goes hand in hand with our doom.
Or maybe Pelosi’s panic is due to the near total elimination of marriage penalties within the tax bill. For decades, married couples have been penalized by a tax code that incentivizes divorce. A divorced couple can often achieve a better tax result by receiving a tax break for payments between them than a married couple can. Marriage is the bedrock of our nation’s foundational structure, the family, and only when our families are strong can our economy thrive. The House GOP members recognized this when they also reduced the number of taxable income brackets to four rather than the seven currently in law.
Another vilified proposal within the Republicans’ tax bill is the assault on the estate tax, also known as the “death tax,” which handicaps families, and particularly family owned businesses, by imposing heavily on bequeathed assets. The House version of the tax bill doubles the death tax exclusion and repeals the tax permanently beginning in 2024, while the Senate’s version retains the tax but doubles the exclusion from 2018-2025.
The Democrats may disagree, but we find that the death tax places an unconscionable onus on small businesses, to say nothing of the emotional damage inflicted on grieving families who are forced to close their business’s doors, and we hope the final bill reflects the House’s language and fully repeals the death tax.
Nancy Pelosi and her compatriots on the Left would have the American public believe that the Republicans are out to help only the richest and the biggest “fat cats,” as Pelosi called the wealthy repeatedly during her floor speeches against the GOP tax bill.
The bill is not perfect, and we urge members of Congress to include in the final bill the House language removing the government’s muzzle on churches via the Johnson Amendment restoring free speech for churches and non-profits. But despite the Democrats’ fearmongering and hyperbolic exclamations, the truth is that this bill does not spell the end of the world, but rather the end of an antiquated tax code that has crippled our economy and placed an undue burden on our nation’s families for decades.
Originally published here.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.