Sometimes I impress, well, even myself, humbling speaking. In the run up to the Supreme Court Masterpiece Cake case (in which the owner declined to create a cake for same-sex wedding) I predicted the decision would be 6-3, it was actually 7-2 in favor of the baker. Close enough. I also said that one of the reasons Justice Kennedy did not retire was so he could write the majority opinion in the case as he wanted to shore up religious liberty that he had torn down in the Obergefell case. As predicted the Justice did just that.
The ruling is important because it helps protect religious liberty from cultural beliefs and practices that are often diametrically opposed to it. While the ruling gives religious liberty some breathing room, or as one Justice opined in his concurring opinion: religious liberty lives to die another day, it doesn’t mean that further legal fights will not be forthcoming. It also doesn’t mean that the cultural and societal conflict will be resolved. In fact, while religious believers may have constitutional protection, they are still exposed to the voices in the public square. For example, the CEO of Twitter recently got a serious slap down for eating at Chick-fil-A. He tweeted about using an app to pay for his meal at the fast food chain. Seems innocuous enough but he forgot that the owner of Chick-fil-A holds to the man-woman definition of marriage. For that crime he had to get on bended knee to apologize.
These are things we can expect if we don’t hold to certain views about any number of subjects. Which means that while you may have legal protections, you don’t necessarily have protection from other types of harms. While the Supreme Court noted that hostility towards religious beliefs should not play a role in any government agency or ruling, as it did in the Masterpiece Cake suit, it can’t prevent hostility in the Public Square. Such is the nature of a free society that allows you to make your case, pro or con.
The US Supreme Court ruling also gives us room in the Public Square to figure out how we are to get along in this new 21st century reality. Living in a country with diametrically opposed positions is no easy thing. Capitulation doesn’t work since it sows the seeds of resentment. What works is persuasion and not heavy-handed compulsion. That has always been the task of the Christian believer: to persuade with words and deeds of love not with force or power.
So how is it that we can all just get along? I think we should start with acknowledging one principle that can help guide our choices. We need to always draw a distinction between objecting to a person and objecting to a procedure. In the Masterpiece Cake case, Jack Phillips did not object to serving all customers, regardless of status at this Bake Shop but he did object to participating at an event, in this case a same-sex wedding. Similarly, a physician, say an Ob/Gyn, shouldn’t refuse to care for a pregnant patient but can refuse to participate in an abortion procedure. If we keep the distinction in mind, then we won’t discriminate against a person but rather only the procedure or event we morally object to.
Admittedly there are many who strongly disagree with making any such distinction. Pressure continues to mount on physicians to perform medical services they morally object to and that are not life saving. The fact is that compromise means that your ideals will fall a bit short. So, if we are going to all get along in a society with differences that can span the ocean, we have to start somewhere. Hegemony on one side is not a recipe for a pluralistic society.
Love, Fr. John B.