Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Editorials

Another voice: Balancing First Amendment rights, equal treatment

The encounter among David Mullins, Charlie Craig and Jack Phillips in a suburban Denver bakery lasted less than a minute. But it has led to years of litigation, culminating in a date at the Supreme Court, where today the justices will hear one of the highest-profile and most emotionally fraught cases of the current term.

Phillips is the proprietor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, where he makes elaborate wedding cakes and other baked goods. In 2012, Craig and Mullins went into the shop hoping to order a cake for their wedding. They had brought along Craigís mother and a binder of designs they were considering. Phillips refused to serve them. Same-sex marriage violates his religious faith, he explained, and baking a cake would represent his endorsement of such a ceremony. (Phillips also closes his store on Sundays and refuses to produce cakes with profane messages, or those that celebrate Halloween.)

The couple left in shock. They sued Phillips under a state law that bars businesses open to the public from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things, and they won. Phillips appealed on the ground that the law infringed his First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of his religion.

These are among the most revered of our constitutional rights. But this case is not really about them; itís about discrimination in the public square. Put simply, you canít offer business services to the general public and then pick and choose your customers because of who they are.

Phillips makes a good case that he is an artist. So might many others who sell the fruits of their labor to those celebrating a wedding. But that doesnít give any of them the right to refuse service to people protected under an anti-discrimination law. If the couple had asked Phillips to write a message on their cake endorsing same-sex marriage and he had been punished for refusing, he would have a more plausible First Amendment claim, since he wouldnít write that for anyone. But Coloradoís law doesnít compel Phillips, or any proprietor, to say anything they donít want to say, or to endorse any specific message. It requires only that they treat all customers equally.

Some free-speech advocates argue that this case is simply a matter of deciding which sorts of expression merit First Amendment protection and which do not. Cake bakers may be a close call, but what about photographers? Florists? Caterers? Calligraphers? In fact, cases like these have been brought around the country. If the justices rule for Phillips, they will be hard pressed to find a clear limiting principle. And that would render public accommodations laws like Coloradoís effectively meaningless.

Unfortunately, the Civil Rights Act does not yet protect gays and lesbians, so they must depend on state laws to guarantee equal treatment. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have public accommodations laws like Coloradoís, which means that in more than half the country, Mullins and Craig would have no recourse if a business refused to serve them because they are gay.

Todayís case will almost surely be decided by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the courtís perennial swing vote. This time, the split he faces is not only among the other eight justices but also within himself, as the author of landmark decisions supporting both gay rights and free speech. Kennedy can conclude that Phillips is a reasonable and sincere person, and still decide that businesses may not disregard anti-discrimination laws by cloaking themselves in the First Amendment.

Comments
Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Floridaís juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scottís administration was defensive and obtuse. So itís welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17