Opinion

A Muslim perspective on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case

Cupcakes adorned with American flags sit on trays for supporters of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, after a rally on the campus of a Christian college on Nov. 8, 2017, in Lakewood, Colo. The small rally was held to build support for Phillips, who is at the center of a case that will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in December. The case may determine if business owners like Phillips are having their right of religious liberty and free expression violated by having to offer their wedding services to same-sex couples. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(RNS) — American Muslims not only have a stake in the outcome of the
Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Human Rights Commission but must take a moral stand on it as well.

The case, which was argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday (Dec. 5), pits freedom of religion and expression against nondiscrimination laws. At the center of the case is a Colorado bakery owner who in 2012 refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple because of his religious conviction that doing so would support gay marriage rights and violate his religious beliefs.

The case before the Supreme Court considers a “constitutional exemption” — giving the baker permission to violate a state anti-discrimination law because not doing so would violate his rights guaranteed him by the First Amendment.

In Tuesday’s arguments, U.S. Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco — supporting the baker’s case — offered the analogy of an African-American artist, who he said should not be compelled to sculpt a cross that would be used by the Ku Klux Klan.

Taking another perspective, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the court did not want to “undermine every single civil rights law,” while Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that a baker posting a sign that declared he does not bake wedding cakes for gay couples might be “an affront to the gay community.”

For American Muslims — or any other religious community, for that matter — this court case will set a legal precedent that could allow any firm that provides services to the public to deny those services to specific individuals for any number of reasons based on religious belief.

This interpretation of religious freedom could transform our nation from one where rights are respected and uniformly protected under the law to one where subgroups are identified for discrimination, isolation and exclusion by those who interpret their religion as one that calls for differential treatment of others based on their identity, viewpoint or way of life.

In the 1960s, a South Carolina restaurant owner argued that his religious beliefs meant he could refuse to serve black customers. In the 1970s and 1980s, schools claimed that they should be allowed to pay women less than men based on the belief that men should be the head of the household. In all these cases, the courts ruled that religious views do not entitle any of us to discriminate.

As American Muslims, we fully understand that civil rights and religious freedom are both critical to our identities. Muslims continue to face challenges in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.

Nondiscrimination laws assure that the state does not take sides when it comes to religion by favoring one religious tradition over another, and these laws promote religious pluralism by prohibiting religion-based discrimination by private actors. Without these protections, businesses would be legally permitted to discriminate against us and other minorities.

From an Islamic perspective, religion is not serving its purpose if human dignity is compromised. Religiously motivated discrimination goes against the Islamic principles of tolerance and protection of individual rights.

While there are Muslims who, like some Christians, view their faith as having a clear and restricting view of sexual behavior and identity, Islam does not permit one to discriminate in providing services to individuals because they believe or behave in a way counter to one’s understanding of Islamic teachings. Muslim professionals, for example, cannot and would not even consider denying service to a person because he or she drinks alcohol, eats pork, commits adultery or has premarital sex.

American Muslims understand that in Islam, the government’s role is not to impose certain religious practices and beliefs on citizens, nor to choose which practices fall within religious freedom. Good governance in Islam establishes and protects equality under the law and can never determine a “right” religion versus “wrong” religion. Current events provide plenty of examples as to why government  imposition of a particular religious view does grievous harm to a society. And there is no shortage of criticism by American Muslims of violations of human rights in the Muslim world under the guise of religious purity.

Impositions of religious views are considered aberrations of the Islamic belief in God’s benevolence and the divine dignity inherent in every human being.

American Muslims understand that religious liberty should be interpreted in ways that are equality-enhancing, not equality-denying, and that in order for America’s values of freedom and equality to prevail, our religious freedoms cannot come at the cost of another’s civil liberty.

While the court seems to be divided on this case (with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy likely to cast the deciding vote), the perspective for American Muslims should be clear: The Masterpiece Cakeshop plaintiffs have twisted the meaning of religious freedom. They have attacked human dignity. Both in God’s world and in the United States, a person’s identity cannot be a justification for harassment, harm or discrimination.

(Ilhan Cagri is the senior policy fellow for religious freedom at the Muslim Public Affairs Council. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

About the author

Ilhan Cagri

47 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Irellevant. The only opinion that matters is the opinion of the Court. In civil law the word that matters is the wording that Congress may not pass laws restricting the free expression of religion. Another’s civil liberty cannot come at the cost of a person’s freedom of religion.

  • Muslims are sure making a certain class of so called christian look bad. The latter routinely demonize the former for not being like them—or being exactly like their caricature of Muslims.

    Routinely, on these very pages, a certain class of so called christian says “hey, at least we’re not throwing you off buildings, like them dirty mooslims.”

    The ironies of his column are just too much.

  • In the beginning it says that he refused to sell a cake to the gay couple. That’s not true. He refused to create a cake for them as far as I understand. If he had cakes ready and they picked one I don’t think he would have refused to sell it to them.

  • He did refuse to sell a wedding cake to the couple, and stated in court documents that his policy was not to sell wedding cakes for same-sex weddings. He did offer to sell them other non-wedding-related bakery items, like birthday cakes, cupcakes, etc. But even if he had a wedding cake sitting there, his statements indicate he would not have sold it to them.

  • The Court has held many times that religion-neutral laws can restrict the free exercise of religion, depending on the circumstances.

  • We shall see in this case. Based on the reported testimony and the responses of the Justices, I am optimistic that freedom of religion will not be restricted in this case. But we shall see. In the end, the ball is not in our court.

  • John you are drawing a distinction that totally avoids addressing the point the writer makes. Your tactic is called bait and switch. Something used by people who know they can’t counter the main argument made. Basically that is that having the right to do something, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

  • Having the right or freedom to do something doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. The issue is whether one persons rights and freedoms take precedence over another persons rights and freedoms. Religious freedom that is built upon denying others there freedom isn’t really free.

  • There’s also a 1st Amendment provision forbidding an Establishment (official recognition) of religion, which hasn’t come up as much as it should in this or the RFRA arguments. What this case may do is enshrine one sectarian view over others.

    Worth noting that the UCC, which filed a brief on the other side, is one of a number of religions that do perform same-sex weddings and would not want to see them disfavored by government.

  • Yes, the ironies of his column are just too much, Ben.
    I got a really good laugh out of, “Religiously motivated discrimination goes against the Islamic principles of tolerance and protection of individual rights.” In fact, I’m still laughing.
    How long until they try to throw you off of a building?
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/06/13/here-are-the-10-countries-where-homosexuality-may-be-punished-by-death-2/?utm_term=.003d9e1ad6c9

  • “This interpretation of religious freedom could transform our nation from one where rights are respected and uniformly protected under the law to one where subgroups are identified for discrimination, isolation and exclusion by those who interpret their religion as one that calls for differential treatment of others based on their identity, viewpoint or way of life.” rofl
    no religious discrimination, eh?
    Quran (4:34) – “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them.” Equal rights there; right?

    Quran (9:30) – “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!” Well, the Jewish and the Christians have equal rights here.

    Equality for all, eh? http://www.torontosun.com/2017/03/01/ryerson-parts-ways-with-imam-whose-teachings-are-under-investigation
    http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/montreal-mosque-facing-calls-for-investigation-as-video-shows-imam-preaching-anti-semitic-conspiracy-theories

    Or what about this one?
    http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/if-my-family-come-they-will-kill-me-a-saudi-womans-plea-exposes-risks-women-take-to-flee-the-country
    or this:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/06/13/here-are-the-10-countries-where-homosexuality-may-be-punished-by-death-2/?utm_term=.003d9e1ad6c9

  • It hardly “enshrines one sectarian view”. It makes room for people to have their differences and be allowed to have their differences. The UCC would impose its views on everyone and force all people to support same-sex weddings.

    It is ironic that the more liberal an approach is, the less tolerant it is of difference.

    I favor a republic that makes room for differences, for genuine tolerance and genuine freedom not lip service to these values.

  • and here is the rub because no matter which way teh decision goes someone’s preferences (defined as freedom) will be dissapointed.

    The Constitution specifically promises freedom of religion. I don’t see freedom to force soemone to support a ritual that for their religion is immoral written down in there anywhere.

  • The Court has already ruled that religious differences does not mean Bob Jones University could practice racial discrimination and still enjoy its tax exemption, and Antonin Scalia, no less, ruled that laws of general applicability could impinge on religious practice. They’re going to have to consider that.

    Would you be okay with an ER desk barring a spouse because the admissions nurse felt her religious differences were offended if she recognized the couple as such?

  • Without intending to, you just gave good examples of what happens when there are clear constraints on the freedom of religion. In Canada, Rev Philip Kayser, Kevin Swanson and Theodore Shoebat would not be allowed to preach death to gays nor would white men be allowed to stage a protest chanting ‘Death to Jews” as in Charlolttesville without legal consequences. And you apparently also aren’t very conversant with the Bible either..

    The author is clear as to American Muslim understanding. while recognizing not all are quite as accommodating or compliant. My experience of Muslims has been quite different than what you are suggesting.

  • No, Linda, what I have shown you is the farce of this article. One cannot shout “death to Jews or homosexuals”, and shouldn’t, yet, the man trying to discuss where rights are protected supports Islam, who respects no one;s rights. I’m sorry I didn’t write that clearer for you, so you could understand.
    (btw – I’m sandi)
    And also, Christ said homosexuality should be punishable by death. Then He turned around and died for them, should they repent of their sin, turn to Him and follow him, otherwise, as He stated, they will die

  • My experience with Muslims is that my rights are respected and in fact, my religious beliefs affirmed. I( knew it was you because of the quotes.

    Your argument apparently supports Swanson et al with a New Testament caveat so it is really not significantly different than that for those Muslims who take certain verses at face value. Their preaching reflects the Old Covenant and not the New. and also negates the fact that OT law was for the Israelite – not others. So their denunciation is not even Biblical because they are not talking about Gay Christians specifically.. And I am not sure that Jewish people would generally ascribe to the punishable by death either. Your argument concerns me because the message that pops out is generally focuses on the or else rather than love, hope and redemption.

  • The problem is that Islam and Muslims have no foundation to speak regarding any perspective because it is a false religion as are all religions because of basic historic and theological problems with their founders.

    Regarding Islam:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi————–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence.”

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gi-b G-nab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a “crea-tionist”.

    “3. To believe in the existence of angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No “pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and “tin–ker be-lls”. Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the uneducated masses in line. Today we call them fortune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invalidated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    “5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone.”

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy”. Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

  • “Muslim professionals, for example, cannot and would not even consider denying service to a person because he or she drinks alcohol, eats pork, commits adultery or has premarital sex.”

    Which totally misrepresents the issue. Many Muslims would, and should have the right to, refuse to serve alcohol and pork, sell pornography, or sell sexually oriented merchandise to unmarried persons. The issue is not about who you are serving – it is about what you are serving.

    In the case of the baker he did not refuse to serve sexual perverts. He refused to bake a cake which celebrates sexual perversion.

  • The Constitution starts with the premise that all men are created equal and are endowed with the same inalienable rights.

    There will always be conflicts in any society where the rights (religious and or secular) come into conflict with the rights (religious and or secular) of someone else.

    AND a society has to decide how best to protect minority rights from the tyranny and sometimes immorality of a majority.

    Growing and maturing as a human being means that you begin to understand that you can’t do everything you want or have the right to do because sometimes it is plain and simply wrong to do that thing.

  • “…our religious freedoms cannot come at the cost of another’s civil liberty.”

    Thank you for adding another voice pleading for wisdom on the part of our Supreme Court. We will have chaos in our market places and public spaces if “religious freedom” comes to mean license to discriminate based on skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender preference, etc.

    Even more frightening, what is a “religion” and how is that to be defined. I see no reason why a license to discriminate for religious reasons against gender preference should be more “privileged” than a right to discriminate based on any other “difference” some group finds annoying. How about the Irish? How about people who are left-handed? Why not?

    Religious liberty is not an absolute right. Society has a right and a duty to create spaces where even religious belief does not impose or limit citizens rights and freedoms.

    Here is the hardest thing to understand and accept: many of those earliest white settlers came here to escape religious persecution and religious wars in Europe. Now we are opening the door to the same social persecution and prosecution again. It won’t work as a means to a peaceful society.

  • Oh you poor baby. So persecuted. And so missing the point. All you can think about is “those people don’t have sex the way I think they should have it.” Of course, no one is necessarily having sex at all. That’s called people’s private business, which the sex obsessed Christians Just can’t stop thinking about. So that’s all you see.

    Apparently, Muslims are now officially more civilized the so called Christians.

  • Christ didn’t die for my sins. He died for yours. That’s where you should be putting your attention. On your sins.

  • As long as you eat your bacon sandwiches, and don’t slay all of the unbelievers in your town,you don’t think so either,

  • You show the clear mind of the bigot. I have yet to meet a Muslim in this country who thinks the same way you do. All of the ones my husband works with are absolutely in support of our marriage.

    It’s the right wing Christians, hiding behind their religious faith, who act like Muslims in the Middle East.

  • But that is exactly what the anti gay marriage laws did in this country— force upon the individuals, churches, ministers ,rabbis, synagogues and entire denominations the hyper conservative religious views that they did not share.

  • They get regular attention, Ben, thanks. BTW, this is sandi. I just changed my nick. And I still don’t want to see you put yourself in Hell.

  • Yet, increasing there is debate, division, and tribalization as people hold very conflicting but sincerely held beliefs on what is “plain and simply wrong” For some that would be to exclude homosexual marriage. For others it would be to prohibit it.

  • Comparing apples and oranges. The nurse works for a company.

    I would defend a privately owned religiously connected organization limiting services that according to their religion would be immoral simply because no one is forced to go there.

    No one is forced to go to a particular bakery. Why are we so easily persuaded that we force the baker to go against his conscience which tells him that to make a cake for a same gendered wedding is against his God’s command and place him in opposition to his God? Why are we so eager to disregard and jettison his religious freedom?

    Are our fundamental freedoms really contingent on popular will? Are we truly willing to go to a place where we say to folks you are free to practice your religion however you want as long as you don’t (fill in the blank). I don’t see a great deal of difference between forcing a baker to provide a cake for a ceremony that he fills he is being forced to facilitate and requiring a Jewish person or a Muslim person to participate in a Christian ritual.

  • The Court would still have to deal with its past rulings in the public-accommodations cases (McClung, Piggie Park) in which they ruled that religious objections didn’t overcome public-accommodations laws, and IIRR both vendors in these cases did serve food. Like this baker.

    There’s also Antonin Scalia’s ruling in Smith that said that laws of general applicability also prevailed over religious practice. It’s not popular will we’re talking about here but constitutional law, which isn’t up for a popular vote and which balances the Free Exercise of religion right with everything else.

    As for the difference between furnishing goods to some remote ceremony, and forcing someone to participate in a ritual, no one asked the baker to attend the wedding or perform the marriage — or do it in his church. You might have a better case, frankly, if this guy was a wedding photographer.

  • It isn’t ” All you can think about is “those people don’t have sex the way I think they should have it.” It’s “those people don’t have sex the way God says they should have it and they are putting themselves in danger”. There you go. Love to help you out Ben.

  • And Christians want to throw hem in jail, Condemn them to loveless lives, attack them for living, and as you once noted, murder em as well when you quoted Leviticus.

  • Yes, if people want to sodomize one another that is their business. If a baker doesn’t want to bake a cake that celebrates their sodomies, that’s his business. How hard is that to understand?

  • What moots this discussion?

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers, Flight 93 and the Pentagon?

    And what drives today’s 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror?

    The koran, Mohammed’s book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means.

    Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed.

    Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein.

    Until then, no Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere…………………………….

  • What is a “sincerely” held belief? Can a belief be sincere IF it is based on lies, distortions, misinformation? Con artists always come across as sincere, otherwise they wouldn’t be so good at coning folks into buying their products.

    How can a judge on the Supreme Court determine that a belief is sincere UNLESS he/she thoroughly questions that belief, where it stems from, their arguments for holding that belief, their scriptural foundation (if any) for that belief. Then they can determine if the persons reasons/arguments for holding that belief are valid than they could conclude the belief is sincere. If they conclude the persons reasons/arguments are invalid then they must conclude the belief is insincere.

    Is this what we (as in a society) want Justices to do?

  • No such thing as a “loveless” life. That’s homosexual propaganda Ben, and I’d hope to put you above such trash.
    No one needs to murder a homosexual. Death for them is going to be worse than murder. They hurt themselves more than anyone else could by rejecting Christ.

  • That is what they already do to some extent..

    The religious freedom claim in Piggie Park was dismissed as “patently frivolous” — as it certainly was. There is neither scripture nor any religious tradition to be found in all of Christian history for segregation as part of Christian belief or practice. While SCOTUS isn’t really supposed to evaluate religious beliefs as frivolous or not, make no mistake that they do.

    The SCOTUS in Obergefell, however, has already acknowledged Christian opposition to same sex practice as grounded in “decent and honorable religious and philosophical premises.” As one of five practicing Catholics on the SCOTUS, after all, Kennedy could hardly claim otherwise.

  • Excuse me, but is this guy really a Muslim? Does he wants his people discriminated and persecuted for their religious beliefs? He seems more a liberal stooge pretending to be a Muslim, because most devout Muslims in the United States are on the same side of Jack Phillips, because they know they will be targeted if there isn`t exceptions for people based on their religious beliefs.

  • When did they say that in Charlottesville Linda? You, like most on the Left, hear only what you want to hear.

  • my apologies – specifically blood and soil, blood and soil, Jews will never replace us chant. Death threats were received ahead of the protest the the downtown synagogues.

  • To be honest, as a gay man who has been with his partner for 15 years; if we got married and we decided to get a cake, I wouldn’t hold it against a devout fundamentalist Christian if he did not want to make a cake supporting our lifestyle and wedding. Big deal. I will go somewhere else. As long as he does not keep us out of his bakery and refuse to sell us anything else in his/her bakery, that is fine with us. If this were a hotel, restaurant, accomodations/housing, job, etc… I’d have a cow if you were to tell us that you are going to use your religious beliefs against us to keep us from dining, living, working, and making a living. It’s not the 1960s anymore… we have the power of social media to promote businesses that cater to gays and shun those that decide to punish us. But a cake? Oh please. I can get a cake anywhere. Just as I affirm your right to belief, you have to respect my disbelief. If I chose to marry a man, it’s none of your business who I marry or whom i chose to spend the rest of my life with. THAT is where I draw the line. Mind your own friggin’ business!!! Do not use your religious views to promote laws that will prohibit us from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Last time I checked, this wasn’t Iran.

  • I’m not religious, but I was told all my life to be tolerant of other cultures…by atheist liberals who fight to tear down every pillar of the local culture. It took me a decade to realize the hypocrisy. There are sacred totems in every culture, and a society cannot be conquered without removing/destroying those totems. “Tolerance” is just a social engineering tool used to make you accept this cultural destruction.

ADVERTISEMENTs