Editor’s Note: Whenever there’s a conflict between civil liberties and religion, whether it’s slavery, voting rights or gay rights, you just know which side conservatives will come down on. The Right consistently supports any legislation and regulations that return us to the glorious past, which is the Fifties ... for some conservatives, it’s the 1950s, and for the rest, it’s the 1850s. Clearly, not everyone is thrilled with my point of view ... here’s a Letter to the Editor from a woman with whom I had some contact many years ago on a totally different topic.

A Cake With a Slippery Slope


Later this year, the Supreme Court will rule on a landmark equality case. In December 2017, the court heard arguments in a clash between civil rights and religious freedom. Not surprisingly, Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to be the swing vote.

In 2012, a gay man tried to order a wedding cake at the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. To avoid conveying a message of tolerance for same-sex marriage, the baker, a Christian, refused his request. The customer filed a formal complaint, which has worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A ruling is expected in June.

Groucho Marx said he’d refuse to join any club that would have him as a member. Although amusing, the opposite makes more sense — I know I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that doesn’t want me. More to the point, who’d trust food handled by someone who hates you? (I stopped eating arguably the best pizza in Fairfield County for precisely that reason.) Obviously, the gay couple could have gone elsewhere for a cake.


Some libertarians are offended by the idea of the state trying to force people to sell their wares to customers they disapprove of. Social conservatives see this as big government abridging religious freedom by forcing evangelicals to violate their Christian beliefs. Although this represents the same form of conservatism that once denied service to blacks at Southern lunch counters, when the freedom to control the fruits of one’s labor is pitted against the right to receive equal treatment, it’s seldom a cut-and-dried issue.

Like much of the Bill of Rights, freedom of religion is not absolute. Rastafarians’ right to perform animal sacrifices has been limited, and Mormons can no longer practice polygamy, despite biblical approval of both practices. And Muslim women generally can’t wear burqas or face coverings for their driver’s license photos. Freedom of speech doesn’t entitle you to libel or slander, and (outside Texas) the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee your right to stockpile Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in your den.

The question is whether evangelicalism’s power in America confers special privileges. The Constitution never mentions god, Jesus, the Bible or anything supernatural, but a GOP/fundamentalist (aka the Christian Taliban) alliance is pushing a form of Sharia that reflects their shared notion that the U.S. is (or should be) a Christian nation.

Make no mistake — if our rightward-tilting Supreme Court rules that religious tenets trump the law, then more than one slippery slope will be created. Once evangelicals can deny homosexuals access to services that are accompaniments of legal activities (e.g., same-sex marriage), what other groups — Mexicans, Jews, blacks, atheists, Scientologists — can they refuse to treat equally?

This type of slippery slope argument was once used by those who opposed same-sex marriage: “Allow two men to marry, and soon you’ll have group marriages or women marrying their dogs.” Of course, this isn’t happening outside the fevered imagination of the religious right. Gay marriage hasn’t increased demand for legalized polygamy, nor is it a gateway to bestiality. However, denying rights to despised minorities is always part of right-wing agendas, because those who hate gays often have long lists of scapegoats.

And once evangelicals’ right to bigotry has been validated, which other groups will want to be exempted from civil rights laws? Everyone would love a waiver from obeying regulations they don’t approve of, and too many of us hope to force our beliefs down the throats of those who don’t share them by denying them their rights. Should Muslim clerks at the 7-Eleven have the right to refuse to sell you beer? Can a waiter who’s an orthodox Jew refuse to bring you a pulled pork sandwich or a lobster?

These are trivial examples, but what happens when the exempted class operates as a monopoly. When the Catholic church runs the only hospital in town, can it deny everyone in the region access to legal procedures it disapproves of, from abortion to morning-after pills to birth control. Could a hospital run by Jehovah’s Witnesses withhold blood transfusions? And, the reductio ad absurdum — would hospitals owned by Christian Scientists be allowed to limit treatment to “thoughts and prayers”?

There’s also a slippery slope from medicine to education. Should Christian (or Muslim) teachers be exempt from teaching modern science, such as the big bang theory, the solar system, evolution or perhaps a spherical earth, just because it contradicts their religion? And should they be allowed to teach pseudoscience (such as creationism); mythology, such as Noah’s Flood, as history; or that homosexuals are an abomination who should be murdered, because the holy books they believe in say so?

The Trump era has normalized bigotry, and I’ve been hearing conservatives say, “It’s a free country, so I’m entitled to be a racist or a homophobe.” They’re right. No one can tell you what to think or how to feel about anyone. The concept of “hate speech” sounds suspiciously like Orwellian “thoughtcrime.” However, you aren’t entitled to act on your prejudices, if doing so violates the law. It seems like a long time ago, but there was a time when “law and order” was more than just a rerun on TNT; it was a Republican motto.

If you think homophobia and bigotry are no longer hallmarks of the religious right/conservative coalition, look no further than the GOP’s rejection of openly gay Andrew McDonald as state court chief justice by a party-line vote. And this happened in Connecticut, which is not exactly the buckle on the Bible Belt.

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