Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a baker in Colorado who declined to create a wedding cake for a gay couple. The couple had filed charges with the Colorado state Civil Rights Commission, which ruled in the couple’s favor, leading to various appeals that brought the case to the United States Supreme Court. By a decisive 7-2 majority the Court ruled that the Colorado state Civil Rights Commission displayed “clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs” of the proprietor of the bakery.

What was never at issue in this case (or the many others like it) was whether the baker should serve homosexual customers. He had done so many times before. What this businessman objected to was using his creative skill to decorate a cake for an event that defied his religious convictions, namely, a same-sex wedding. Yet despite this clear distinction, the press has generally framed this as a case of anti-gay bigotry, as in this New York Times headline-

I prefer this headline (equally as factual) from The Babylon Bee

This is satire.

Nevertheless,  I bet that right now many of you still can’t see the difference between anti-gay bigotry and freedom of conscience. So let me offer three illustrations.

Imagine that you are a Jewish baker. You have many customers who come to your shop to grab pastries and desserts, which you gladly sell them to make a living. Imagine that one of your regular customers comes in and asks you to decorate a large cake for an event. You ask for details, and she explains that there is a gathering of  Holocaust skeptics that she’s responsible for catering, and wants you to decorate a cake for it. You may or may not have known she was sympathetic to this outlook, and for that matter, she may not have known that you were Jewish.

Should the state be able to compel you to use your talents to provide a cake for this event?

Now, imagine that you are a Muslim baker, living and working in Las Vegas. Every morning a woman comes by the bakery to grab breakfast, which you gladly sell to make a living. Over the course of time, you learn she is a prostitute who works for one of the legal brothels in Vegas. But she’s a paying customer, and while you disagree with her lifestyle, you are not in any way complicit with her immoral behavior by selling her a cupcake. Imagine, though, that one morning she comes in and says that her brothel wants you to decorate a cake celebrating the tenth anniversary of the brothel, an event that is obviously at odds with your religious beliefs.

Should the state be able to compel you to use your talents to provide a cake for this event?

Finally, imagine you are a Christian baker, and among your regular customers are a couple of gentlemen who always come in together. You gladly serve them as paying customers and even develop a casual friendship with them. But then one day they come in to ask you to decorate a cake for their wedding. Because you hold to the orthodox Christian position on these matters, you must explain to them that while you appreciate their business and friendship, you cannot in good conscience use your artistic skill in connection with an event that is profoundly at odds with your religious beliefs.

Should the state be able to compel you to use your talents to provide a cake for this event?

Some of you absolutely believe so. I hope that the Court’s decision will make you rethink just how radical your position actually is. Because if the state can compel the bakers in the three examples I just laid out to do business or close shop, then the rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech are in grave peril.

I get that some of you don’t care about freedom of religion. You are thoroughly secular, and you believe Orthodox Judaism, mainstream Islam, and traditional Christianity are just artifacts left over from a primitive and ignorant past. So as far as you’re concerned, religious scruples are always silly and often bigoted, and the state should not countenance such convictions for a moment. America’s robust legacy of freedom of religion is nonsense to you.

But there is an underlying issue here that you should care about – freedom of speech. If you believe the government has the right to force the bakers in the three examples I gave to decorate the cakes for the events I proposed (or close shop), then what you are saying is that the government can compel its citizens to say things that are contrary to their beliefs. Compelled speech is not free speech.

And if the state has the power to coerce other people to say things they don’t believe, it has the power to compel you to say things you don’t believe. So the issue here is ultimately not just about religious liberty. It is about liberty – period.

And thankfully, yesterday the Court ruled in favor of freedom.