Sen. Mike Lee is warning that the case of a Colorado baker in legal peril for refusing to bake a specialty wedding cake for a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony is about more than religious liberty or LGBT rights, but about whether the government can compel speech.
“The government cannot force you to speak where you would choose to remain silent.” @SenMikeLee says.
Lee, R-Utah, was among what GOP members said are at least 86 members of Congress signing onto an amicus brief that will be filed in support of the plaintiffs in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which the Supreme Court will be considering in its upcoming term, which begins next month.
“This is a compelled-speech case,” Lee said at a Capitol Hill press conference Thursday. “The Supreme Court has said that the First Amendment, in addition to doing all the things that it does, prohibits the government from requiring individuals from making a particular statement with which they disagree. The government cannot force you to speak where you would choose to remain silent.”
Lee, a constitutional scholar and the author of the 2015 book “Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document,” also said the case is not a public-accommodations case, but rather, is a viewpoint-discrimination case.
“This isn’t a case where someone refused to sell a pre-made good to someone else, based on their sexuality or their orientation,” said Lee, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006-2007.
“It is instead one in which the couple at issue requested the cake baker make a specialty cake, not a pre-ordered, pre-made, pre-designed sort of thing. But, [they were] asking the baker to use the baker’s talents and specialty to craft a cake carrying a message with which the baker disagrees. So these cases are different than cases involving public accommodations.”
The members of Congress were joined by Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, as well as by Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington. Members of Congress have asked the Supreme Court to consider the Stutzman case as well, after the state took punitive action against her for not providing flowers for a same-sex wedding.
In the Colorado case, Phillips declined to bake a cake with a rainbow image celebrating a ceremony for a same-sex union. Phillips said he would have gladly sold any baked goods to the couple, but declined to specifically create a cake with an image that violated his conscience.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission determined the cake shop violated public-accommodations laws.
“Every American artist has the right to create or not to create,” Phillips said.
In the Washington state case, the state attorney general’s office sued Stutzman, claiming she violated the state’s anti-discrimination law in declining to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.
“This is not just about my freedom, but about everyone’s freedom,” Stutzman said.
The other members of Congress at the press conference were Reps. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.; Mike Johnson, R-La.; Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.; and Jody Hice, R-Ga. They agreed the case could set a seismic First Amendment precedent.
“Government coercion of speech that violates the religious conscience of the speaker is not only a violation of the First Amendment; it is also patently un-American, and it’s a violation of personal liberty,” Hartzler said. “A government that tells you what you can’t say is bad enough. But a government that tells you what you must say, and what you must do, and punishes you if you don’t, is frightening. That kind of state power should scare all of us, no matter where we stand on this issue.”
Lamborn, who represents a district near Phillips’ shop, agreed.
“If you can restrict free speech in one area, nothing can stop government from restricting free speech in other areas,” he said.