The Supreme Court has recently indicated which cases they will be hearing in the next session, and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission may be the most important.
Masterpiece Cakeshop is owned by Jack Phillips, a Christian, who declined to make a cake for Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins’s same-sex marriage. Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins were returning customers, but Mr. Phillips felt that his using his God-given artistic talents to make a cake for a same-sex marriage would violate his Christian beliefs. He offered to sell them a pre-made cake and to continue to bake for other events, but would not bake for their wedding. It is important to note that all this occurred before same-sex marriage was recognized in Colorado, where this bakery is located. Mr. Phillips also wouldn’t make cakes for events like Halloween or bachelor parties, that contained alcohol, or were sexually explicit, all in the name of his religious values.
In retaliatIon, Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins contacted the ACLU and filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, alleging that Mr. Phillips’s decision to not bake the cake for their wedding was an instance of sexaul orientation discrimination, which is illegal in Colorado. The court ruled that Mr. Phillips’s refusing to bake the cake was not protected by the First Amendment nor was it coercing speech to make him bake the cake. The court also declared that it had the right to decide where one individual’s rights end and another’s begin, claiming for itself the power to change the bounds of individuals’ natural rights. Even more alarming, they decided that forcing him to bake the cake for an event he felt was a violation of his religious beliefs was not a violation of his free exercise of religion and he must do it or face a penalty. These rulings have since been appealed and have now reached the Supreme Court.
Many of you are not business owners and may never be in this situation. Some of you would act differently than Mr. Phillips did. So why should you care about the outcome of this case? The answer is quite simple: this case will determine whether your property rights and right of conscience are honored and protected by the federal government, or are subject to the whim of courts and lawsuits. Do you have the right to say “no” to a contract and do business with who you want? Does your business belong to you? Or is it an extension of the federal government?
The United States was founded on the truth that every person inherently possesses natural rights and the purpose of government is to protect those rights. Among the rights that each person possesses is a right to control and enjoy their property as they see fit and to believe what they wish. James Madison said:
“This term [property] in its particular application means ‘that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.’ In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.
In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property. In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them. He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them. He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person. He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them. In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”
As explained above, property is something to which you have exclusive right to or ownership of, such as your home, your money, your merchandise (business), or your car. Madison expands property to include your faculties (labor and talents) and how you choose to use them, your opinions, your religious beliefs, your personal safety, and other rights. Others may not receive or take your property or labor without your consent.
Are there limits to these rights? Yes! As Madison says everyone has exclusive right to their own property as you do to yours. You may enjoy the fruit of your own labor, skill, industry, and just acquisitions so long as you do not take it from someone else or prevent them from enjoying the fruit of their labor, skill, and industry.
These truths are important to this case because Masterpiece Cakeshop is the property of Mr. Phillips, he has exclusive right to it and can control it and use it as he pleases so long as he is not taking or damaging the property of others. Mr. Phillips also has exclusive right to his own labor or faculties and is free to use them as he chooses. The plaintiffs do not have a claim to his business or labor as that would violate Mr. Phillips’s property rights, creating a legalized form of plunder and slavery. Claiming someone else’s property or labor without a voluntary contract violates natural law, and is neither just nor moral.
So what is the government’s role in this? Should it defend Mr. Phillips’s property? Or should it coerce him to use his property and labor in a certain way? Madison answers:
“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”
A just government, as Madison says, is a government that secures to a man what is his own. Do the plaintiffs, Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullen, own Masterpiece Cakeshop or Mr. Phillips’s labor? No. The government forcing Mr. Phillips to use his business or labor in a certain way, or allowing others to coerce him, is unjust and immoral.
These truths are further confirmed in later statements by Madison, the other Founders, those who inspired the Founders, and those who shared a dedication to these truths.
“Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. … The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If “Thou shalt not covet,” and “Thou shalt not steal,” were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.”
“Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.”
“Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.”
“The security of right and property, is the great end of government.”
“So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community. “
“Let these truths be indelibly impressed on our minds: (1) that we cannot be happy without being free; (2) that we cannot be free without being secure in our property; (3) that we cannot be secure in our property if without our consent others may as by right take it away.”
“No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent.”
“It is sufficiently obvious, that persons and property are the two great subjects on which Governments are to act; and that the rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted. These rights cannot well be separated. The personal right to acquire property, which is a natural right, gives to property, when acquired, a right to protection, as a social right.”
“The sacred rights of property are to be guarded at every point. I call them sacred, because, if they are unprotected, all other rights become worthless or visionary. What is personal liberty, if it does not draw after it the right to enjoy the fruits of our own industry?”
These writers, philosophers, and leaders all knew and expressed the same truth: property is a natural, sacred right of individuals and the government’s just role in relation to property and property rights is to protect the property rights of its citizens. For the United States government and the state government of Colorado to fulfill their purpose and be a just government, it must defend Mr. Phillips sacred property and labor rights from the coercion of Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullin and not coerce Mr. Phillips to use his business and labor in any way. To force Mr. Phillips to provide a service for someone else and subject his business to the will of interest groups would be tyranny; regardless of how sensitive the feelings of the plaintiffs are. Impartially defending property rights means that the government cannot be swayed by the emotion or sensitivities of some citizens to the point of violating the rights of other citizens. To do so isn’t impartial or just. The protection of rights is a sacred trust given to the government by the people to use collective force to do what justified individual force would do, not to use collective force to violate the rights of some citizens in favor of the feelings of others.
Unfortunately, Mr. Phillips’s property rights are not the only ones being threatened by this case: religious liberty and right to conscience are also under attack.
James Madison said:
“Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and unalienable right. To guard a man’s house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man’s conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.”
Mr. Phillips’s religious liberty or right of conscience is, as Madison stated, the most sacred of all property. Our right to believe what we want is elemental to who we are as individuals. Our country was founded and settled by people fleeing from tyrannical governments who wished to control their property and what they believed. Now, on behalf of an aggrieved minority who wishes that their lifestyle choice be accepted and embraced by all, we are reintroducing that tyranny here. This is not the purpose of government, it is an abuse of power and a violation of the most basic of human rights.
Our Founders wanted more for us than another tyrannical government, they wanted and designed a government that would protect rights, and hoped that our government would be an example to others. Madison expressed these hopes for our country when he said:
“If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments.”
The United States can be a just government, an example to the rest of the world, but to do so we as a nation must recommit ourselves to protecting natural rights, especially those of conscience and property, and stand up to tyranny, even if tyranny acts with “compassion.” No amount of goodwill justifies the violation of the sacred rights inherent to us all, and we must have the courage to defy the consensus and say “No!” when confronted by it.
Why you should care about Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission? This isn’t about wedding cake; it’s about whether the government will protect natural rights as it was intended to, or stand aside and violate those rights itself. This case will decide if the United States government is a just government that protects property and conscience, if you own your labor and business, and if you have a right to your own conscience. This case will open the door to other private organizations, like churches and clubs, being targeted for “discrimination.” If you, as a business or individual, can’t decide who you do business with, associate with, or who you provide services for, how then can a club decide who’s allowed in or a church decide who it will perform marriages for? If we continue to erode protection of property, association, and conscience, individuals will lose them all together; the government will be in charge of your business, your labor, your club, and your church. You will no longer have a choice as the state takes over.
Here are some things you as an individual can do:
1) Write a letter to your representatives in Congress and demand that they come out in favor of the governmental protection of property rights and the right of conscience. Remind them that it is the role of government to protect these as sacred rights that are inviolable.
2) Request that they pass legislation that protects property and conscience rights, especially of religious peoples, from prosecution and persecution by individuals and local, state, and Federal governments. Request that individuals or government bodies who violate personal rights be subject to penalties. To protect rights, the government must make the cost of violating rights more painful than the gains from doing so.
3) Request that your representatives pass legislation that strips the judicial branch of the unconstitutional jurisdiction it has seized. Property rights, conscience and religious liberty, and sovereignty issues shouldn’t be hanging in the balance of judicial decisions. The Founders did not give the courts that power and no amendment to the Constitution has ever expanded their powers. If our representatives in Congress do not legislatively check the courts, we will continue to have what Justice Scalia termed “societal transformation without representation.”
4) Raise your voice and share these truths with your family, friends, and neighbors. Most people don’t realize what is at risk or don’t know why they should care. It is your duty, as informed citizens, to help others be informed and be a rallying cry in your communities. Post about it, share this article, talk about it with your family and friends, and most importantly pray about it; petitioning He, who gave us these rights, to help us protect them.
Let us do our part to remember where our rights come from and strive to protect them; that the blessings of liberty will be preserved in this country.
If you would like to help Mr. Phillips and get updates on his case and other cases affecting religious liberty, visit the Alliance Defending Freedom at https://www.adflegal.org/.