A lesbian-identified baker in Michigan has unwittingly highlighted an important point about free speech and the conscience rights of cake artists. And a certain Christian baker in Colorado wants everyone to know that he agrees with her.
April Andersen is the owner of the Good Cakes and Bakes shop in Detroit, Michigan. She is also a lesbian. Recently she made news when she received a request to bake a cake with the message, “Homosexual acts are gravely evil. (Catholic Catechism 2357).”
Andersen chose not to inscribe that message on the cake.
“I didn’t mind making the cake, but I also felt his purpose in ordering the cake was he wanted to troll us and to say we were being discriminatory to him. That’s exactly what he wanted,” she said. “I know there have been cases where LGBTQ have sued bakeries for not making wedding cakes and all the courts say if you provide a service, you can’t discriminate. We make cakes. I can’t discriminate and say I won’t make the cake, but I can choose not to write homophobic comments.”
She went ahead and created a cake for the person requesting the message but changed the decoration from the requested message to multi-colored rainbows in a show of support for homosexuality, but completely contrary to what the customer ordered.
Andersen received a nod of support from a surprising source – Jack Phillips, the Christian owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, who won a U.S. Supreme Court victory in his battle over artistic conscience and the messages he chooses to portray with his one-of-a-kind cakes. Phillips penned an op-ed for Newsweek in which he draws the parallels between her case and his.
“In my more than 25 years as a cake artist, I’ve kept a simple policy: I serve everyone, but I cannot create cakes that express every message or celebrate every event,” he wrote.
Phillips says that’s exactly what Andersen believes, and he supports her right to run her business that way.
“I’ve faced the situation that April faced, and I came to the same conclusion: I couldn’t create a cake that expressed a message that went against my beliefs. So, I politely declined the request, while explaining that I would be happy to sell or create other items for the customer. The customer wasn’t the problem. The problem was the message that the cake expressed,” Phillips said.
Ironically, though, according to Phillips, Andersen was treated favorably in the mainstream reporting of her particular incident, while Phillips has had to deal with the opposite reaction from media for years, even as he is still fighting legal attempts to force him to bake cakes with objectionable messages.
Although Andersen might argue that her case is different because she actually did bake a cake, albeit with a different message than the one requested, whereas Phillips refused to create and bake one at all, the main principles of free speech and artistic conscience are identical. There is no legal difference between opting to change the message versus refusing to create the objectionable message in the first place.
One can only hope that those who still believe that Jack Phillips was wrong to decline to create a cake – that sent a message of approval of same-sex marriage – will reevaluate their opinions after considering Andersen’s story.
A few days ago a federal judge in Kentucky upheld the First Amendment right of a Christian wedding photographer to decline to shoot same-sex weddings as mandated by a local ordinance. What the judge articulated in his decision is also instructive for bakers, and for the cultural and legal debate over same-sex marriage in general.
“America is wide enough for those who applaud same-sex marriage and those who refuse to,” he wrote. “The Constitution does not require a choice between gay rights and freedom of speech. It demands both.”
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