SCOTUS ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop case: Pagans react

Terence P Ward —  June 6, 2018 — Leave a comment

TWH –As was reported Monday, justices of the Supreme Court of the United States ruled this week in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. et al. v Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al., in which a baker asserted he had the right to refuse to bake a same-sex wedding cake due to his religious beliefs.

[Wikimedia Commons].

In the majority seven-to-two opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that “the government has no role in expressing or even suggesting whether the religious ground for [baker Jack] Phillips’ conscience-based objection is legitimate or illegitimate,” and that “religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.” The law, justices found, must be applied more neutrally with respect to religion.

We spoke with several Pagans to find out how they viewed this decision, and how it might impact their own rights. Others took to the internet to give their views voice.

T Thorn Coyle of the Solar Cross Temple had this to say: “I’m not a lawyer, so can’t speak to the ins and outs of the recent ruling. However, I recall one conversation about the young activists who day after day, sat stalwartly at the Woolworth’s lunch counter as abuse was hurled at them. Another Pagan said to me, ‘Well, that lunch counter was private property.’ That response troubled me, because it wasn’t right.

“The lunch counter was ‘private property’ that served as public space, and while I’m not likening the couple that wanted a wedding cake to the lunch counter activists, I think we can use a similar lens to look at this situation. Marginalized people need greater protections and allowances in our society than those who derive the most benefit from the status quo. We must take care of one another.

“Kicking someone out of your business because of matters of public safety are one thing — such as people shouting slurs in your restaurant who make the space unsafe and unpleasant for other customers. Refusing to serve someone because they are gay, or black, or trans, or poor, or Latinx, or indigenous? This sort of discrimination sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the healthy functioning of society. It erodes the common good and rapidly, society becomes a perilous place for anyone who doesn’t fit the standard – rewarded — mold.”

Kurt Granzow, member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in Portland, Oregon, wrote in a public Facebook post, “Certainly this should motivate us to keep fighting, keep resisting, but this ruling is going to embolden the right to launch all sorts of additional attacks against us. Remember, we didn’t get our rights without a riot.”

Environmental attorney Robin Martinez considered the legal implications, and possible consequences. “I think it’s too early to tell how the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision will impact members of the Pagan community, but I think it lays the groundwork for some interesting arguments. The decision itself appears to be narrowly tailored to the unique facts of the case. While the parties largely focused their arguments on First Amendment issues, the Supreme Court’s opinion barely touched those questions. Instead, the court scrutinized what it saw as flaws in the proceedings before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Justice Kennedy, who authored the opinion, wrote that members of the commission acted with ‘clear and impermissible hostility’ toward the sincerely-held religious beliefs of the business owner. That hostility on the part of the commission resulted in a situation where, in the court’s view, the business owner didn’t get a fair and neutral hearing – thus forming the basis for the decision.

“The upshot of this case is that while it upholds a certain degree of Christian privilege, the court’s emphasis on the importance of having a neutral arbiter in cases involving peoples’ sincerely-held religious beliefs could work to benefit Pagans and other members of minority religions who may be facing religious-based discrimination. In that respect it’s a little bit like the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which held that a town’s practice of starting its city council meetings with a prayer did not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, so long as the town did not discriminate against minority faiths. That decision was ultimately relied upon by the Satanic Temple to demand its inclusion in prayers preceding Phoenix, Arizona’s city council meetings.

“I think it’s a safe bet,” Martinez continued, “that the Christian organizations originally pushing these lawsuits didn’t anticipate that result – but the law of unintended consequences can sometimes work in funny ways.”

Druid Casey McCarthy lives in Colorado, from where this case arose. He gave the situation considerable thought. “I think this needs to be broken down into three categories, which I will expand upon, these being religious, legal, and sociological.”

[Pixabay]

“Religious: I believe this is where the most grey area arises in terms of this specific case,” McCarthy explained. “Religiously speaking this business owner refused to bake this cake on the grounds of doing so for a religious wedding ceremony. From what I understand, this business had baked cakes before for LGBTQIA individuals, had done work and provided service for that community.

“This case was focused specifically on the area of marriage, and this owner’s right to refuse to bake a cake for a religious ceremony [the owner] did not support . . . . I cannot and will not support religious freedoms and practices that involve openly discriminating against anyone, unless the discrimination is occurring against discriminatory practices. I will openly discriminate against people, religions, and social institutions that seek to create imbalance and attack other people based on a prescribed status.”

McCarthy continued, “Legal: . . . . The state law of Colorado has staunch anti-discriminatory policies in place which protect from this kind of discrimination. From a legal standpoint it is quite disturbing to me that this business was able to circumnavigate state laws and take this to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled favorable. . . . This can now be cited and used by groups like the evangelicals to be able to openly target queer folk, and do so under the auspices of religious freedom. This, for me, is a terrifying slippery slope, which was quite intentional in order to push boundaries around being able to discriminate. . . . I believe that I see very clearly that the groups in power now are pushing legal agendas of slowly and deliberately normalizing the removal of rights for marginalized groups, in favor of their own. . . . As a queer Pagan living in a rapidly increasing evangelical, white nationalist, christian theocracy, I am terrified . . . . as well as deeply motivated to take action.

“Sociological: . . . I really believe in what is referred to as the ‘paradox of tolerance.’ This philosophical tract posits that pure tolerance for everything, including the intolerant, will lead to the destruction of tolerance,” McCarthy said.

“I believe that allowing this business to express openly discriminatory views against the GLBTQIA community allows that platform to still exist. That by ruling that a religious view is valid, despite the fact that it causes harm to another community, cannot be tolerated. I believe that if theology and praxis includes any elements of racism, sexism, or anti-queer sentiment that it should not be allowed to exist systemically. . . . we as Pagans need to work on several things in our own society in order to remove intolerant religious practices. We need to be preaching acceptance of all paths (unless they cause harm to people) as valid and all identities as valid. We need to be taking positions of political power and wealth in this world in order to be able to enact change on a systemic level. We need to be teaching future generations rules, morals, and paradigms that remove ‘us and them’ mentalities in favor of holism. We need to fight intolerance at all levels and work to enact a culture of love, compassion, and the existence of complexity.”

William Ashton, a member along with McCarthy in the Mountain Ancestors Grove of the ADF, said for this part, “This is a challenging case with an awkwardly specific verdict, especially for someone both very religious, and who is a part of the LGBTQIA+ community …I certainly wouldn’t want to be forced to offer services (or goods) to groups to which I don’t share beliefs. It would be like being made to perform a wedding for a white-nationalist Heathen couple,” said Ashton.

“It seems the court supported the business owner’s right to refuse service based on the event and not the nature of the customers. It’s a cheap tactic to allow this kind of subtlety in discrimination, but that’s the country we live in currently.”

“It’s emotionally disappointing,” he continued, “and it’s possible that from our perspective we can’t see the deeper ramifications that could be set by this case setting precedent. Fortunately, the verdict was such that it is only applicable to this case, and specifically stated to not be a precedent-setting decision.”

An inquiry sent to the Lady Liberty League did not receive a response by press time. We will continue to follow the respone and impacts of this decision as they unfold in society.

Terence P Ward

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Terence P Ward is a moneyworker, journalist, Hellenic polytheist and convinced Friend who lives in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his wife, five cats, and multiple household shrines.