Critics of Indiana’s religious freedom law are trying to have their cake and eat it, too

Posted by on Apr 06, 2015 at 8:31 am

Let them eat cake. As one option, we could maintain a strict neutrality rule that requires businesses to serve all customers, even when they find customers or their requests (whether involving cakes or flowers or photographs) to be offensive. If you choose to go into a particular business, you lose the ability to withhold services based on the content of messages or the specific attributes of an event. That would mean a bakery couldn’t refuse to inscribe an anti-gay message on a cake — or a birthday message to someone named Adolf Hitler Campbell (which a New Jersey ShopRite said no to a few years ago). Under this approach, a cake would be viewed as a form of speech of the customer, not the baker.

No cake for you. The second possibility is an absolute discretionary rule that allows businesses to decline services or products when they substantially burden religious values. This could lead to a significant rollback of this country’s progress since desegregation. Even the sponsors of the Indiana law have indicated that they do not want such a broad rule.

Speech-free cake. A third option would be to allow a limited exception for expressive services or products. Under this approach, a bakery could not refuse to sell basic cakes to anyone but it could refuse to customize cakes with objectionable symbols or words. A florist could not refuse to supply standard flower arrangements from a pre-set menu but could object to designing and styling, say, the venue of a same-sex event. Likewise, photographers — whose work is inherently expressive, as they select particular moments to capture, frame compositions and create a product tailored to specific clients — could claim an expressive exception in declining to work at events they find offensive.

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