Metro Weekly

Faith leaders denounce discrimination in Masterpiece Cakeshop case

Pastors criticize attempts by right-wing advocates to portray themselves as defenders of religious freedom

Rev. Naomi Washington Leaphart addresses a rally outside of the Supreme Court – Photo: Faith in Public Life, via Facebook.

A host of clergy members, including over 500 Christian leaders, have registered their support for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the gay couple at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

The Christian leaders issued a moral declaration attesting to the fact that religious liberty doesn’t justify discrimination.

Circulated by the organization Faith in Public Life, the declaration also indirectly criticizes attempts by right-wing organizations to justify their desire to discriminate against same-sex couples by holding themselves up as defenders of the Christian faith.

Today, some of our fellow Americans — from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to Muslims — are not being treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as children of God,” the declaration reads. “While we hold different theological beliefs about the definition of marriage, we are united in our firm conviction that LGBT people should be treated fairly and equally. Religious freedom should never be used as a justification for discrimination.”

“As our nation becomes more diverse, some of our fellow Christians embrace a rhetoric of persecution and claim that people of faith are under attack,” the declaration continues. “The First Amendment of the Constitution firmly protects our freedom of religion. While Christians in the Middle East and other volatile areas often confront violent persecution because of their beliefs, we are blessed to live our faith openly and freely.

“In the United States, legal and policy debates over religious freedom are real and often complex, but to claim that Christians in our country are under attack dishonors the lives of Christians around the world who face true persecution. We urge fellow Christian leaders, elected officials and all citizens of goodwill to refrain from politicizing religious liberty and to help reclaim it as a shared value and principle.”

On the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, many of those same faith leaders reiterated their support for Craig and Mullins and their opposition to any decision that allows so-called “religious exemptions” from having to abide by nondiscrimination laws.

Rev. Naomi Washington-Leaphart, the faith director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, warned that a decision in favor of Masterpiece baker Jack Phillips — who is asking for an exemption from Colorado’s nondiscrimination law — threatens to undermine the legal basis for other civil rights laws.

“For me, this is personal. The promise that the United States Constitution makes to me — a black, queer, same-sex married, co-parenting woman — is threatened with each attempt to make discrimination a protected right,” Washington-Leaphart said. “It’s personal, because my own deep commitment to a justice-seeking faith is actually undermined by every attempt to use religion — my own religion — to deny and abandon human beings who are holy in God’s eyes.”

Rev. Jennifer Butler, the CEO of Faith in Public Life, prayed that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of “justice and compassion.” But she also took to task conservative Christians who have attempted to cast the Masterpiece case as a last stand for religious freedom in the United States.

“We reject false choices, using Christianity and religious liberty to justify discrimination runs counter to our faith, which calls us to love our neighbors,” Butler said. “Let me say this loud and clear to my fellow Christians: we Christians are being unfaithful when we slam doors in our neighbor’s faces. Only by exemplifying the love of God and turning the other cheek, and welcoming those who are different from us, can we know God and be faithful to Christ’s teachings.”

She also referenced the precedent set by the Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises Supreme Court case, on which pro-LGBTQ advocates are hoping the Supreme Court relies when it makes its decision.

In that case, a North Carolina barbecue owner claimed that his religious beliefs opposing racial integration precluded him from having to serve African-American customers, a claim that the Supreme Court rejected. Any decision that did not reach a similar conclusion would be a “giant step backwards.”

Rev. Jill McCrory, of Twinbrook Baptist Church in Rockville, Md., told Metro Weekly that she came down to the Supreme Court to register her support for equality and progressive values, particularly since right-wing groups will often prop up more conservative Baptist ministers to speak on behalf of the Baptist faith community — when in fact, there is great diversity of thought even among ministers within the same faith.

“The biggest thing the other side is missing in this case is we’re talking about a product that is sold. When you offer a product to be sold, you can’t discriminate against anyone,” McCrory said. “We would never tolerate a baker saying: ‘We don’t do cakes for bar mitzvahs.’ This is not a faith thing, this is a discrimination thing.

“As a faith leader, our faith is not supposed to harm people. What they’re saying is: ‘Our faith should allow us to harm people.'”

McCrory also warns that allowing religious exemptions to public accommodations laws could have a ripple effect, making other types of discrimination acceptable.

“This opens the door to far more. Today, it’s a cake. Tomorrow, it’s a prescription at a pharmacy. And the next day, it’s health care, because my faith doesn’t support your health care choice,” she said. “That should not be what we stand for in this country.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com