by Brandon Biagini
31 January 2018
The shop is one of the parties in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall
On a summer day in 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins arrived at Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a wedding cake to celebrate their upcoming reception. However, they didn’t leave with a receipt and smile on their face. Denied service due to their sexual orientation by owner Jack Phillips, who cited his religious beliefs as the rationale for denying service, it wasn’t long before the two parties found themselves in the chambers of Colorado courts.
Now scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court in October of this year according to a report by the Washington Post, a wedding cake will decide the rights a business has in regards to providing a service to the public.
On January 8th, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case regarding a 2016 Mississippian law that allowed for state employees and private businesses to deny service to LGBT people base on religious beliefs according to a report by NBC on that same day.
The confusion surrounding laws and regulations on businesses today has brought yet another aspect of the free market into question: Can private businesses that provide services to the public refuse to serve those they do not wish to do business with based on characteristics such as race or sexual orientation?
Yes, a business can decide not to serve someone based on her or his race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. It’s perfectly within the rights of the business to do so.
That doesn’t mean that discrimination based on surface level characteristics is good or an American value. Discrimination is disgusting and shows nothing but arrogance and ignorance.
But we must understand that even racists and bigots have rights protected under the Constitution just like you and me. These rights cannot be discarded and forgotten simply because their values and beliefs don’t align with our own.
Forcing Jack Phillips to bake a cake for a gay couple is just an example of an ever encroaching and growing government presence in the market. If the Supreme Court does decide the cake should have been made, regardless of Phillips’ ownership of the business, freedom of choice is stripped from the market.
By removing the “free” from free market, businesses have no choice but to treat everyone the same. For example, if Phillips was now forced to bake cakes for gay couples, he is now also forced to bake cakes for any type of customer that appears in his shop. This could include any number of terrible types of people.
If a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan request a cake with a rebel flag on it and a burning cross, Phillips is now required by law to provide his services for this terrible organization.
POLL BASED ON A CROSS-SECTION OF STUDENTS ATTENDING OSWEGO EAST HIGH SCHOOL
If Kim Jong Un, dictator of North Korea, phoned in an order for a cake decorated in nukes and burning American flags, Phillips is obligated by the federal government to complete this order.
Forcing businesses to provide their services to people or groups they would normally refuse doesn’t solve any problems. It arbitrarily takes liberties for no reason without fixing the problem. The increasing dependence on government to solve these disputes has led us to ignore the fact that markets free of government intervention do a significantly better job of fighting discrimination and prejudice.
Markets are better at curing discrimination than any government body. We must also recall the government so many believe to be benevolent and good is the same government that upheld the institution of slavery and enforced Jim Crowe laws in the south. We can’t solely place our trust in the government to fix every problem, especially problems the government has created in the past.
Phillips is being punished because of his refusal to serve Craig and Mullins, but not by any government agency.
Masterpiece Cakeshop has lost 40% of its business, and over half of its employees according to a report by USA Today on November 26, 2017. Phillips is barely making it by with what little profits he can make from his cakes. Why? Because the same freedom of choice that he had to turn away a gay couple is a freedom every American has, and people in the Denver area have chosen to take their business elsewhere.
Free choice and the free market has caused more damage to Masterpiece Cakeshop than the government ever could. Saying no to providing a service for customers is saying no to their money. Phillips hurt himself and his business the most.
The likelihood that Masterpiece Cakeshop will survive much longer is slim, thanks to the freedom of choice that the American people have.
Instead, we as Americans can fight discrimination and prejudice by ourselves. When a private business fails to embody what it means to be an American, we boycott and demand change. If they don’t, they go out of business, problem solved.
Just as during the bus boycotts during the 1960s, the American people can bring about real change. It can be done peacefully, without the need for government interference and trampling the rights of a private business.
Brandon Biagini is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the HOWL