Politics & Policy

Why Bakers Should Be Free to Discriminate

Guess what happens when you ask for a cake that really violates people's beliefs?

As innocuous as they might seem, bakeries have been the center of controversy in America for some time. Oregon and Colorado bakers have been told recently that refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding is tantamount to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and therefore punishable by fines or other sanctions. These kinds of cases were the cause of the controversial changes to the Arizona Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Governor Jan Brewer vetoed in February.

But there are some services a bakery is still free to deny, and no sane person would deny them the right to do so.

Keep in mind that the bakeries that got in trouble — Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado and Sweet Cakes in Oregon — did not refuse service because of their customers’ sexual orientation, but because of ethical opposition to participating in a particular act, namely a same-sex wedding. Judges in both cases declared the bakeries had unjustly discriminated and delivered an ultimatum: Bake the cake or else.

National Review wanted to find out what happens when you ask a bakery for a sugary tribute to an institution just about nobody likes. Would bakeries be willing to make a cake with a Nazi swastika on it?

This was done not in an effort to imply some false moral equivalency between Nazism and same-sex marriage, but rather to show that bakers may have good faith objections even to reproducing a symbol.

Big Apple bakers were admirably unwilling to bake a Nazi cake.

“I’m so sorry, we’re not able to do something like that,” City Cakes responded to our request.

“I don’t know. I might have moral objections,” a baker at Sugar Flower Cake Shop said.

A CMNY Cakes representative said the shop couldn’t bake such a cake because “it doesn’t sound politically correct.”

Snooky’s bakery replied resolutely, “No.” When asked why, the employee replied, “Because of the symbol of the swastika.”

National Review eventually called bakeries in Brooklyn, thinking that perhaps outer-borough bakeries are looser in their baking practices.

“No, sorry,” replied Essential Cakes Inc.

“I think we’ll pass on that,” Betty Bakery said.

Last call: Made in Heaven Cakes. The woman at the other end of the line said that baking such a cake would be “serious” and she was not sure. Ultimately she gave neither a “yes” nor a “no” but seemed so uncomfortable with the question that we thanked her and said goodbye.

So what have we learned from this little no-tether ride down the slippery slope?

First, that bakers, like all Americans, don’t check their consciences at the door. We’re not going to sue any of these establishments for refusing service, and the nation has an overwhelming anti-Nazi majority. But the social acceptability (or unacceptability) of an event or a viewpoint should not determine whether individuals are forced to violate their consciences.

Second, that we should think twice before forcing people to share our ideas of what is or is not offensive. Even an enthusiastic supporter of the right of gays to marry (and bear in mind that support for gay marriage has become a majority position only within the last few years) should shudder at the prospect of a professional’s being sued because he or she doesn’t want to participate in a gay-marriage celebration. “Some people like broccoli; some don’t” used to be considered a reasonable, even liberal position on personal beliefs; we can’t mandate opinions just because everybody likes cake.

Third, and most important: If you want a Nazi cake, you’ll have to look somewhere other than these fine establishments. They don’t want to bake it, and they have that right.

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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