The Art of Tolerance in a Time of Tension and Distrust

In July 2012, two men entered the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. They asked the owner of the bakery, Jack Phillips, to custom-design a wedding cake for the pair’s same-sex wedding.

Phillips offered to sell the couple anything else in his store, even a pre-made cake. But, citing his Christian faith, he declined to design a special cake for the couple’s wedding.

The two men filed a complaint with Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found that Phillips had violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. It ordered Phillips to bake the couple a wedding cake.

The commission also ordered Phillips to go through a “re-education” program and file quarterly “compliance” reports with the state showing that his business was following the state’s prevailing marriage doctrine.

Phillips appealed the decision to Colorado’s Supreme Court, and when that court ordered him to bake the cake too, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It will hear oral arguments in the case later this year.

Last week, I joined 85 congressional colleagues in signing an amicus brief supporting Phillips’ First Amendment right to freedom of expression. It is a sad commentary on the current state of religious freedom in this country that this case had to go this far.

The American colonies were settled by persecuted religious minorities. The Constitution makes clear that America is meant to be a nation that tolerates and protects differences of opinion.

We’re supposed to share the public square with people who hold vastly different beliefs about life, not to mention the life to come.

It is clear we are going through a period of heightened tension and distrust. But I believe that most Americans still have the maturity—not to mention the neighborly decency—to live side-by-side with people who are different from them.

The nation’s Supreme Court should reaffirm the basic principle that government is not a legitimate tool to squelch dissent. It cannot force us to speak when we want to remain silent, just as it cannot shut down our speech in the public square.

Rather than enforcing conformity, the high court should leave us to work out our differences among ourselves, with peace and charity.

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