A win for Jack is a win for all; but the fight is not over
By Becky Uehling
It was all I could do to stay in my seat Monday during the Perkins County Commissioners meeting when a FOX News alert came over my phone announcing the Supreme Court verdict in a case that millions of American Christians have been prayer over for months—Jack Phillips had won his case in the Supreme Court! It was one of those moments where you just found out the most fabulous news and you wanted everyone to know it and celebrate, because it definitely deserves a celebration! However, despite the win for Jack and his family, the case was not an all encompassing victory for religious liberty in this country; no, that fight continues.
However, we must stop and celebrate with Jack and thank God for this one victory, and continue to pray for those fights to come.
Many in Perkins County and the area may not know Jack personally, but I bet you may know him through a protégé of his—Brian Pankonin of Grant, former owner of Pankonin’s Heaven Scent Bakery. Brian worked with and for Jack for a combined 15 years before moving to Grant and opening his own bakery. Jack taught Brian many things about baking and designing cakes; but, according to Brian, he also gave him an example of what a Godly, humble, caring man looks like. However, this is not how the State of Colorado and many LGBTQ advocates have portrayed Jack as, starting with the day in 2012 when two men wanted Jack to bake them a custom made wedding cake for their same-sex wedding ceremony, and Jack politely declined, citing that creating the cake would force him to go against his deeply held Christian beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman. It isn’t the only type of cake Jack has refused to make during his time in business because of his religious convictions. He also does not make cakes celebrating Halloween, divorce parties, etc. His decline that day had nothing to do with who the men were personally. Jack would have sold any other product to them, but when it came to him using his creative talent to be used in what he considers a sacred, holy ceremony that went against his deeply held beliefs, he could not, in good conscience, do it.
However, the men sued, and the State of Colorado sided with them, even going so far as to compare Jack’s actions to the acts of slave ownership and the Holocaust. For three years Jack and his family endured harassment, death threats and a loss of business. Jack stopped making wedding cakes, a creative craft that he loves, because of the harassment. His family even endured an order by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for reeducation courses for him and his employees, which would have forced them to endure “inclusion” training, and become tolerant of any type of situation and serve any type of request.
Jack’s case ended up at the Supreme Court at the end of last year, the same place that in 2015 took it upon itself to redefine marriage, an institution as old as civilization itself, in the Obergefell decision, making gay marriage legal in all 50 states.
Last Monday, in a 7-2 ruling, the court dealt specifically with how the Colorado Civil Rights Commission dealt with Jack and his business, ruling that the commission’s treatment of Jack’s business was “inconsistent with the state’s obligation of religious neutrality.”
“The government, consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise, cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote on behalf of the court. “The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in its obvious contempt of Jack’s beliefs, “was neither tolerant nor respectful of his religious beliefs.”
Justice Clarence Thomas in his statement, said he knew this crisis was coming. “In Obergefell, I warned that the Court’s decision would ‘inevitabl[y]...come into conflict’ with religious liberty, ‘as individuals.....are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.’ This case proves that the conflict has already emerged. Because the Court’s decision vindicates Phillips’ right to free exercise, it seems that religious liberty has lived to fight another day. But, in future cases, the freedom of speech could be essential to preventing Obergefell from being used to ‘stamp out every vestige of dissent’ and ‘vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.’ If that freedom is to maintain its vitality, reasoning like the Colorado Court of Appeal’ must be rejected.”
Although Jack’s win is exciting for religious liberty in America, it will not be the last battle that people of faith will have to fight in upholding their religious convictions. The Supreme Court will most likely in the not so distant future be contemplating the same issue only packaged in a different form. Let’s pray when that time comes, that Court again sides with religious freedom in America.