Masterpiece Cakeshop

Minnesota media mull over whether Christian video company can refuse to film gay weddingss

Minnesota media mull over whether Christian video company can refuse to film gay weddingss

We’ve been writing about the news coverage of the wedding-cake wars for some time, by which I mean lawsuits filed by gay couples against bakers, photographers, wedding venue owners and anyone else whose religious beliefs clash with same-sex marriage.

A few years ago, one of these vendors –- a St. Cloud, Minn., couple that does wedding videos -– saw the Masterpiece Cakeshop U.S. Supreme Court case involving Colorado baker Jack Phillips and his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and read the tea leaves. Phillips could be them. They did a preemptive lawsuit asking for the right to not have to film events that were against their religious beliefs.

The courts kept on rejecting them until very recently. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says what happened next.

A three-judge federal appeals court panel cleared the way Friday for a St. Cloud couple suing Minnesota over the right to refuse to film same-sex weddings, arguing that the videos are a form of speech subject to First Amendment protections.

Carl and Angel Larsen, who run a Christian videography business called Telescope Media Group, filed a federal suit in 2016 against Minnesota's human rights commissioner, saying the state's public accommodation law could hit them with steep fines or jail time if they offered services promoting only their vision of marriage.

Writing for the panel's 2-1 majority, Judge David Stras, a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice, found A the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say, and that their free speech rights would be violated should their business be penalized under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

The Associated Press also covered this story:

Judge Jane Kelly issued a dissenting opinion.

“That the service the Larsens want to make available to the public is expressive does not transform Minnesota’s law into a content-based regulation, nor should it empower the Larsens to discriminate against prospective customers based on sexual orientation,” Kelly wrote.

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Another Masterpiece Cakeshop chapter closes, with a bland AP report that skips hot details

Another Masterpiece Cakeshop chapter closes, with a bland AP report that skips hot details

It’s another day and we have yet another chapter closing in the First Amendment drama of Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Is this the last chapter?

That’s hard to tell. It’s especially hard to tell in the bland Associated Press report that is being published by many mainstream newsrooms. While the story does mention that Phillips has won another partial victory, it misses several crucial details that point to the anger and animus that has been driving this case all along and could keep it going.

Animus” against Phillips and his traditional Christian faith was, of course, at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court’s sort-of decision on this matter, but, well, never mind. Why cover that part of the story?

So here is the latest from AP:

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on religious grounds — a stance partially upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — and state officials said Tuesday that they would end a separate legal fight over his refusal to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and attorneys representing Jack Phillips said they mutually agreed to end two legal actions, including a federal lawsuit Phillips filed accusing the state of waging a “crusade to crush” him by pursuing a civil rights complaint over the gender transition cake.

Phillips’ attorneys dubbed the agreement a victory for the baker. Weiser, a Democrat, said both sides “agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases.”

So what about the future? Here is what readers are told:

The agreement resolves every ongoing legal dispute between the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver and the state. Weiser’s statement said it has no effect on the ability of the Denver attorney who filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to pursue her own legal action.

The attorney, Autumn Scardina, told the commission that Phillips refused last year to make a cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside for a celebration of her transition from male to female. She asked for the cake on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would consider Phillips’ appeal of a previous commission ruling against him.

The lede for this story, as is the mainstream news norm, fails to note the key facts that were at the heart of the original case.

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Unfinished 2019 business in America's ongoing First Amendment wars over religious liberty

Unfinished 2019 business in America's ongoing First Amendment wars over religious liberty

During the year-end news rush, many or most media – and The Religion Guy as well – missed a significant development in the ongoing religious liberty wars that will be playing out in 2019 and well beyond. 

 On Dec. 10, Business Leaders in Christ filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Iowa for removing the group’s on-campus recognition on grounds of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  This club for business students requires its leaders to uphold traditional Christian beliefs, including that “God’s intention for a sexual relationship is to be between a husband and wife.” See local coverage here.

These sorts of disputes across the nation are thought to be a factor in religious citizens’ support for Donald Trump’s surprise election as president. And the Iowa matter is a significant test case because the Trump Department of Justice filed in support of the club Dec. 21, in line with a 2017 religious liberty policy issued by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

The DoJ’s court brief is a forthright presentation of the argument the Iowa club and other such organizations make for freedom of association, freedom of speech and “free exercise of religion” under the Constitution. Contact: Eric Treene of the Civil Rights Division, 202–514-2228 or eric.treene@usdoj.gov.

More broadly, what does the American nation believe these days regarding religious freedom?

That’s the theme of a related and also neglected story, the Nov. 29 issuance of a new “American Charter of Freedom of Religion and Conscience” (info and text here). The years-long negotiations on this text were sponsored by the Religious Freedom Institute, which evolved from a Georgetown University initiative, and Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion. 

The Religion Guy finds this document important, although at 5,000 words needlessly repetitive.  In essence, it asserts that freedom of religiously grounded thought, observance and public action, and the equal rights of conscience for non-believers, are fundamental to the American heritage and the well-being of all societies. 

Adopting lingo from federal court rulings, the charter says these freedoms are not absolute. But any “substantial burden” limiting them “must be justified by a compelling governmental interest” and implemented by “the least restrictive” means possible. The charter also endorses the separation of religion and state.

It is remarkable — and discouraging to The Guy — that basic Bill of Rights tenets even need to be reiterated in this dramatic fashion, because that tells us they are too often neglected -- or rejected.  

The charter has won a notably varied list of initial endorsers because it purposely avoids taking stands on the “sometimes bitter debates” over how to apply these principles, in particular clashes between religious traditionalists and the LGBTQ community.

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That U.S. Senate race in Bible Belt Tennessee: What matters more, Trump or cultural issues?

That U.S. Senate race in Bible Belt Tennessee: What matters more, Trump or cultural issues?

Let’s see. What was going on in America before public discourse went totally bonkers, once again?

Oh, right. The mid-term elections are coming up, with Democrats hoping to win enough seats in the U.S. Senate to put Mike Pence in the White House.

To the shock of just about everyone here in the three cultures of Tennessee (think Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville), this Bible Belt state has a real, live U.S. Senate race on its hands in 2018. This is what happens when Democrats are willing to nominate an old-guard politico who has a track record as an economic centrist, back in the days before religious, moral and cultural issues took complete control of American politics.

On top of that, megastar Taylor Swift has even jumped into the fight, with a blunt endorsement of an old, white guy, saying he is the best way to defend Tennesseans from a female candidate’s conservative beliefs about gender and sexuality.

In other words, it’s absolutely impossible to talk about the Tennessee U.S. Senate race without talking about religion and culture.

So, how did The Washington Post political desk do in its recent feature — “In deep-red Tennessee, Republicans are anxious about the U.S. Senate race“ — on this topic? Here is the overture, with the lede set right here in my back yard:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jeanie Brakebill voted for President Trump. But when a conservative canvasser showed up at the 63-year-old’s door here recently, she confided that she had grown tired of Trump’s confrontational brand of politics and was leaning toward voting Democratic in the upcoming midterm election.

“I would vote for Bredesen, to help out Tennessee — even if it means giving Democrats the majority in the Senate,” said Brakebill, referring to Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen.

The sentiments expressed by Brakebill and voters like her have raised fresh worries for Republicans in this deep red state, which overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016 but where voters remain divided just weeks before a midterm election that could determine which party controls the Senate.

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This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

No doubt about it, there was a big, big religious-liberty story back on June 28 out in the often-overlooked Rocky Mountain Time Zone.

This was a story that had been cooking for some time and, yes, it involved Jack Phillips of Colorado, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. 

To understand the significance of this news story -- the goal of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) --  it helps to look at the following timeline:

* On June, 26, 2017 -- the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission -- a Colorado lawyer named Autumn Scardina called the bakery and made a rather simple request. Scardina requested a cake with blue icing that was baked with pink batter. The lawyer told a Cake Shop employee that the goal was to celebrate Scardina's birthday, as well as the seventh anniversary of the day he came out as transgender she.

* On June 4, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by a 7-2 margin, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown anti-religious animus during proceedings leading to its actions punishing Phillips for refusing to create one of his one-of-a-kind wedding cakes to celebrate a same-sex couple's marriage. Phillips offered to sell the couple any of the other cakes or goods in his shop, but -- because of his faith -- refused to create a special cake to celebrate that rite.

* On June 28, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that there was evidence that Phillips had discriminated against Scardina because of anti-trans bias, as opposed to this action being another act of conscience by the Christian baker, protected by the First Amendment.

You can assemble those dates in your mind with a bit of editing as you read the Washington Post (or New York Times) coverage of this new chapter in the Masterpiece Cakeshop drama.

So why is the story breaking this week? You can see that in the overture to the Post story:

Add another layer to the legal drama surrounding the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple -- and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., on Tuesday filed another federal lawsuit against the state alleging religious discrimination.

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Got those religious-liberty news blues: Nuns with charge cards buying birth control?

Got those religious-liberty news blues: Nuns with charge cards buying birth control?

So what has been going on, for the past couple of years, with the Sisters of the Poor and the federal health-care mandate requiring them, and many other religious institutions, to offer their employees health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives?

Journalists: Does anyone believe that these regulations require elderly nuns to go to a nearby drug counter, whip out the religious order's charge card, and purchase "morning-after pills"?

Is that what Attorney General Jeff Sessions meant when, in a recent speech on the rising tide of disputes about religious liberty, he said the following (which is typical of the language he has been using)?

"We’ve seen nuns ordered to pay for contraceptives. We’ve seen U.S. Senators ask judicial and executive branch nominees about their dogma -- a clear reference to their religious beliefs -- even though the Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for public office."

What does he mean when he says the nuns have been ordered to "pay for" contraceptives, and lots of other things that violate the doctrines at the heart of their ministry?

So many questions! Was he talking about nuns using a charge card at the pharmacy? Or was Sessions discussing a requirement that they use ministry funds to offer a health-care plan that includes these benefits, requiring them to cooperate with acts that they believe are evil?

It's the latter, of course.

So what are readers to make of the language in the overture of this recent Religion News Service story (it does not carry an analysis or column label)?

(RNS) -- Standing beneath the cast aluminum statue of Lady Justice in the Department of Justice’s Great Hall, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a bold statement last week: “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”

He spoke of Catholic nuns being forced to buy contraceptives. (Actually, the Affordable Care Act required the nuns to cover the costs of contraceptives in their employees’ health plans.)

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When profiling ADF's Kristin Waggoner, why not include facts about her Pentecostal roots?

When profiling ADF's Kristin Waggoner, why not include facts about her Pentecostal roots?

In late 2005, back in my Washington Times days, I visited the Scottsdale, Ariz., offices of Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal firm that is best known today for litigating Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and a wave of other important religious-liberty cases before the Supreme Court.

I was very much aware of them, as they were beginning to outdo other stalwarts  -- such as the Rutherford Institute and Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law and Justice -- in the Christian legal arena. I was researching a piece on ways legal groups were mounting annual campaigns to “defend Christmas,” which ran here. (My byline has been removed, but that is my piece. At the time, the ADF was known as the Alliance Defense Fund.)

It took other media nearly a decade to wake up and discover the ADF. There’s Think Progress’s 2014 piece on the “800-pound Gorilla of the Christian Right;" a similar piece, also in 2014, by the New York Times; a 2016 mention by Politico, a 2017 piece by The Nation on “the Christian legal army” behind the Masterpiece case and more.

So I was interested to see yet another profile on the group; this time a spotlight on Kristin Waggoner, who has litigated ADF’s most high-profile cases this year, by Washington Post feature writer Jessica Contrera.

There were delicious details but major gaps. For example, try to find any specific, factual information about this woman's faith. Some excerpts:

Two days before the announcement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement, a woman who stood to gain from it was on the steps of the Supreme Court once again. Kristen Waggoner’s blond bob was perfectly styled with humidity-fighting paste she’d slicked onto it that morning at the Trump hotel. Her 5-foot frame was heightened by a pair of nude pumps, despite a months-old ankle fracture in need of surgery. On her wrist was a silver bracelet she’d worn nonstop since Dec. 5, 2017, the day she marched up these iconic steps, stood before the justices and argued that a Christian baker could legally refuse to create a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

Her job was to be the legal mind and public face of Alliance Defending Freedom., an Arizona-based Christian conservative legal nonprofit better known as ADF. ...

Then follows some back story, then a pivot to Waggoner’s personal life.

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The New York Times 'reports' on an old mantra: Free speech for me, but not for thee

The New York Times 'reports' on an old mantra: Free speech for me, but not for thee

If you are a journalist of a certain age, as well as an old-guard First Amendment liberal, then you remember what it was like trying to get people to understand why you backed ACLU efforts in 1978 to defend the rights of a neo-Nazi group to march through Skokie.

Clearly this march was going to cause pain and emotional suffering, since that Chicago suburb included many Holocaust survivors. But First Amendment liberals stood firm.

If you grew up Southern Baptist in the Bible Belt, it was also hard to explain why you thought Hustler magazine had the right to publish a filthy, sophomoric satire of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, including a fake claim that he had committed incest with his mother in an outhouse.

That case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a New York Times report at the time noted, this Hustler piece was clearly satire and the First Amendment wasn't supposed to protect people from feeling offended or even abused by voices in the public square.

The central legal issue is whether, in the absence of the kinds of false statements purporting to be fact on which libel suits are based, a public figure like Mr. Falwell should be able to win damages from a publication that intentionally causes emotional distress through ridicule, tasteless or otherwise.

Several Justices suggested they were grappling with a conflict between the freedom of the press to carry on a long tradition of biting satire, and what Justice Antonin Scalia called the concern that ''good people should be able to enter public life'' without being exposed to wanton abuse in print.

I remember, back then, liberals saying they would be quick to defend the First Amendment rights of conservatives who spoke out on tough, tricky and even offensive issues.

This brings me to one of the most Twitter-friendly stories of this past weekend, a Times report that ran with this rather blunt headline: "Weaponizing the First Amendment: How Free Speech Became a Conservative Cudgel." It's amazing how little religious content is in this report, in light of waves of religious-liberty fights in recent years.

If you are looking for the thesis statement or statements in this article -- which I think was meant to be "news," not analysis -- here it is: 

... Liberals who once championed expansive First Amendment rights are now uneasy about them.


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Double standard? Religious animus? Five links to help dissect SCOTUS ruling on Trump's travel ban

Double standard? Religious animus? Five links to help dissect SCOTUS ruling on Trump's travel ban

How does the much-discussed Masterpiece Cakeshop case relate to this week's long-awaited U.S. Supreme Court ruling on President Trump's ban on travel from five Muslim-majority countries?

Astute journalists — including Godbeat pros — immediately tackled that key question after the court's 5-4 decision Tuesday. 

Two key words in the best coverage: religious liberty.

More on that in a moment. But first, a little background: Speaking at the Religious Freedom Annual Review at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, last week, law professor Thomas Berg drew a connection between the two recent cases.

These days, many support some people's religious freedom — be it that of conservative Christians or Muslim immigrants — but the same folks tend not to have sympathy for the other side, said Berg, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

He added on Twitter:

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