I recently read a news report about Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a family-owned bakery in Gresham, Oregon. The family, who practice a Christian faith, refused to make a cake for a same-sex marriage. Their religious beliefs prevented them from celebrating something they felt was morally wrong.
The family was then hit hard by two groups, the LGBT community, and the state of Oregon.
The LGBT community not only boycotted the bakery, but also threatened to boycott any other business who did business with the bakery. This ultimately shut down the bakery. To make matters even worse, some within the LGBT community also made death threats to the family. All this over the family's decision to not participate in celebrating a marriage they consider religiously sinful. The family did not suggest that they would not do business with anyone who identifies with the LGBT community. Presumably, the family would have baked many cakes for persons in the LGBT community, provided the cakes were not for same-sex marriage ceremonies.
To make matters worse, the state commenced an investigation into the alleged discrimination. I imagine this inquiry might be similar to an Unruh Act claim in California. A representative of the Oregon state agency is quoted as saying while everyone is entitled to his/her beliefs, “that does not mean that folks have the right to discriminate.” He added, “The goal is to rehabilitate.”
What the state is saying is that the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion extends to beliefs, not to practices. The state is saying a person can believe whatever he chooses, but he cannot act in accordance with sincerely-held religious beliefs. The state is claiming that the right to practice one’s religion, enshrined in the Constitution, is trumped by a relatively new statutory provision protecting persons who practice an alternative lifestyle.
The position taken by the State of Oregon is not different from many other states, politicians or judges. This position would limit the First Amendment’s free exercise clause to hopes, ideas and thoughts. But even thoughts appear to be in peril if government intends on “rehabilitating” those who practice their religious faith.
The free exercise clause was never intended to be so limited. It protects each person’s right to practice his/her religion according to conscience. It allows persons to advocate religious beliefs, even in the public square. It allows persons to be free of governmental compulsion to engage in acts contrary to religious beliefs.
I anticipate this issue will be raised multiple times. Sweet Cakes by Melissa won’t be the only business targeted for practicing religious beliefs in a commercial setting.