Call The Cake Police!

Noted Wall Street Journal Editorial Board member James Taranto offers this spirited defense of religious liberty and the movement to safeguard this bedrock American freedom.

Wall Street Journal

January 14th, 2015

James Taranto

The New York Times ’s Frank Bruni is indignant that anyone would see “me and my evidently menacing kind,” meaning “men who have romantic relationships with other men and maybe want to marry them,” as a threat to religious freedom. That turns out to be a straw man. Regardless of their sexual orientation, Bruni and like-minded people are a threat to religious freedom not because of who they love but because of what they are willing to do to people who don’t see things their way.

He offers an example of what he has in mind: “As Michael Paulson noted in a recent story in The Times, judges have been hearing complaints about a florist or baker or photographer refusing to serve customers having same-sex weddings. They’ve been siding so far with the gay couples.” That is, the judges have been rejecting small-business men’s conscientious objections and compelling them to do business with gay-wedding planners. Bruni approves.

Without harboring animus toward gays or sharing the eccentric baker’s social and religious views, one may reasonably ask: If a baker is uncomfortable baking a cake for you, why call the cake police? Why not just find another baker who’s happy to have your business?

Bruni avoids answering the question by making a rhetorical shift from personal indignation to high principle. He takes us down an inverted slippery slope, one that goes from the dire to the trivial:

As these lamentations about religious liberty get tossed around, it’s worth remembering that racists have used the same argument to try to perpetuate segregation. [The ACLU’s James] Esseks noted that even after the Civil Rights Act, the owner of the Piggie Park restaurant chain in South Carolina maintained that he could refuse to serve black people because his religion forbade the mixing of races. The courts were unimpressed. . . .
Would we be content to let a Muslim store owner who believes that a woman should always cover her hair refuse service to women who do not? Or a Mormon hairdresser who spurns coffee to turn away clients who saunter in with frappuccinos?
A normal slippery slope starts with something seemingly benign and leads by steps, usually of declining plausibility, to 1930s Germany or 1950s Mississippi or some other awful conclusion. Bruni does exactly the opposite. He begins with a genuine horror of American history, segregation; proceeds to a notional but not completely baseless threat, Shariah; and ends with a scenario that is both preposterous and utterly unthreatening.

Believe it or not, this is completely logical. To understand why, you have to realize that Bruni’s purpose here is not to vindicate his personal dignity as a gay man. Rather, it is—and he makes this explicit by the end of the column—to reject the principle of religious freedom almost totally.

First, he states the proposition more narrowly, applying it specifically to the types of business that might do contract work for a gay couple marrying:

Baking a cake, arranging roses, running an inn: These aren’t religious acts, certainly not if the establishments aren’t religious enclaves and are doing business with (and even dependent on) the general public.
That is a non sequitur. An act needn’t be “religious” for a believer to object to it on conscientious grounds. Serving in the U.S. military is not a religious act, but believers in pacifist creeds have traditionally been excused from wartime service on conscientious grounds.

To take another example: Suppose we went to a devout Muslim baker and ordered a cake decorated with the image of Muhammad. Presumably he would refuse. If the state moved to compel him to fill our order, would he not have a very strong religious-freedom claim?

When we mentioned this example on Twitter the other night, someone replied by suggesting it was inapposite because our hypothetical, in contrast with the actual gay-wedding examples, does not involve a complaint of discrimination by the disappointed customer. That may be a fair point, but it is not available to Bruni.

His last hypothetical—the Mormon hairdresser with an aversion to secondhand coffee—involves discrimination only facetiously. It is settled law that the prevention of race and sex discrimination is a compelling governmental interest that can (although it does not necessarily) justify curtailment of religious liberty. Some argue—and we suspect a bare majority of the current Supreme Court would agree—that the same is true of sexual orientation.

Surely Bruni is not arguing that discrimination against coffee drinkers (and not just coffee drinkers, but people who openly carry coffee in public) is an evil on anything like the order of discrimination against gays, never mind Jim Crow segregation. The purpose of his reverse slippery slope is to deny that the governmental claim must be subject to strict scrutiny—the applicable standard against religious-liberty claims, of which the compelling-interest test is a prong—or indeed to much scrutiny at all.

To do that, he reduces the religious-liberty claim to a nullity, too weak to withstand even the most ludicrous counterclaim he can think of. If he’s right, our Muslim baker is out of luck. (At least he won’t have to worry about the New York Times’s printing a picture of the offending cake.)

At the end, Bruni reveals just how much he wants to curtail the right to religious freedom: “I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish—in their pews, homes and hearts.” That’s quite a qualification. Religious freedom and free speech, in Bruni’s view, are suitable for exercise only in private.

It gets even more incredible. Bruni is a model of old-fashioned liberal tolerance compared with his colleagues on the Times editorial board. Yesterday they cheered a politician for firing a man because he dissented from gay-rights orthodoxy in a book:

Until last week, Kelvin Cochran was the chief of the Atlanta fire department, where he oversaw a work force of more than 1,000 firefighters and staff.
Mr. Cochran, a veteran firefighter, is also a deeply religious man, and he was eager to bring his Christian faith into the daily functioning of his department—or, as he put it in a book he authored in 2013, to “cultivate its culture to the glory of God.”
But, as the book revealed, his religious beliefs also include virulent anti-gay views. He was fired on Jan. 6 by Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, for homophobic language in the book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” Among other things, he called homosexuality a “perversion,” compared it to bestiality and pedophilia, and said homosexual acts are “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.”
“Cue up the outraged claims that Mr. Cochran’s rights to free speech and religious freedom have been violated,” the editorialists predictably sneer, calling that “an assertion that is as wrong as it was predictable.”

But the Times wants to violate yet another right, to wit:

It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians. His position as a high-level public servant makes his remarks especially problematic, and requires that he be held to a different standard. . . .
Nobody can tell Mr. Cochran what he can or cannot believe. If he wants to work as a public official, however, he may not foist his religious views on other city employees who have the right to a boss who does not speak of them as second-class citizens.
The editors concede there is no evidence of wrongdoing (i.e., discrimination) on Cochran’s part. Solely on the basis of his expressed religious views, they call for him to “be held to a different standard” and banished from public office.

Under the U.S. Constitution, every citizen has the right to vote and to seek public office—rights that can be alienated only through conviction in a felony or impeachment trial. It is the Times editors (who, ironically, regard felon disfranchisement as invidious) who are speaking of Kelvin Cochran as a second-class citizen.

Metaphor Alert
“Social Security, in more ways than one the mother of all U.S. entitlement programs, has been the dragon that conservatives have succeeded in slashing, but never slaying, over its 80-year history. Their opposition has morphed from outright ideological grounds as the program was being debated during the New Deal era to a campaign masked in careful rhetoric once Social Security became virtually untouchable as a political animal.”—Dylan Scott,, Jan. 14

Out on a Limb
“College Football Notebook: Buckeyes Could Be Favorites Next Season”—headline, Associated Press, Jan. 14

We Blame George W. Bush
“E-Cigarette Blamed for Small Explosion at Sparks High School”—headline, Associated Press, Jan. 13

Longest Protest Signs Ever Printed
“If we jump too quickly to the universal formulation, ‘all lives matter,’ then we miss the fact that black people have not yet been included in the idea of ‘all lives.’ That said, it is true that all lives matter (we can then debate about when life begins or ends). But to make that universal formulation concrete, to make that into a living formulation, one that truly extends to all people, we have to foreground those lives that are not mattering now, to mark that exclusion, and militate against it. Achieving that universal, ‘all lives matter,’ is a struggle, and that is part of what we are seeing on the streets. For on the streets we see a complex set of solidarities across color lines that seek to show what a concrete and living sense of bodies that matter can be.”—Judith Butler, New York Times website, Jan. 12

Trouble at the Kiddie Table
“Voodoo Economics: Paul Krugman Rejected by His Peers”—headline,, Jan. 13

He Has the Hat to This Day
“Before Romney, John Kerry Wanted to Run Again, Too”—headline, Washington Examiner, Jan. 14

Make That 11

“10 Warnings for the ‘Romney in 2016′ Crowd”—headline, Washington Post website, Jan. 12, 2015
“RED 3: Mitt Romney May Be Retired, but Still Extremely Dangerous”—headline,, Sept. 25, 2014
Problem and Solution

“One of the Milky Way’s Arms Might Encircle the Entire Galaxy”—headline,, Jan. 13, 2015
“Hugging ‘Epidemic’ So Out of Control, Some Schools Are Banning It”—headline,, May 28, 2009
Cause and Effect

“Perky Pig Apparently Escapes Slaughterhouse”—headline, KABC-TV website, Jan. 14
“No Pork at a Third of Chipotle Restaurants”—headilne, Associated Press, Jan. 14
Be Careful What You Wish For

“Doctors Should Start Making House Calls Again”—headline, KPLR-TV website (St. Louis), Jan. 6
“Doctor Pleads No Contest to Wandering Through Stranger’s Home at 4 a.m., Pays Restitution”—headline, Associated Press, Jan. 14
The Formal Title Is Duke of Possum
“Prince George Receives More Gifts Than Any Other Royal—Including a Possum Skin Cloak”—headline, Daily Mirror (London), Jan. 14

Hey, Kids! What Time Is It?
“It’s Time to Get Acquainted With Your Future Self”—headline, New York magazine website, Jan. 14

Question and Answer—I

“Is the White House a ‘Sleeper Cell’?”—headline,, Jan. 12, 2015
“Michelle Obama Wants Sleep, PJs for Christmas”—video title,, Dec. 15, 2014
Question and Answer—II

“Deep Thinking Is Not Reserved for Geniuses but Is for Everyone. Here’s Why.”—headline, World Scientific Publishing press release, Jan. 13, 2015
“ ‘Sad Joe Biden’ Deep in his Thoughts: Vice President Photo Now Canvas for Jokes”—headline,, Dec. 9, 2014
Question and Answer—III

“Has Taking the Bus Become the ‘Cool’ Way to Travel?”—headline, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 13
“School Districts Prep Buses for Cold Weather”—headline, WLTX-TV website (Columbia, S.C.), Jan. 7
Question and Answer—IV

“How Food Is Being Used as a Weapon”—headline,, Aug. 17, 2011
“Principal: Let Students Hurl Canned Food at Intruders”—headline, Associated Press, Jan. 13, 2015
Question and Answer—V

“How Did the Smiths Help Salford Lads’ Club Make £16,000 in One Week?”—headline, Guardian website (London), Jan. 11
“Morrissey, in Midst of Six-Month Jail Term, Wins Special Election to Virginia House”—headline, Washington Post website, Jan. 13
Look Out Below!
“Oil Price Falls Hard on Some Halliburton Workers”—headline, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 13

News of the Tautological
“Spike in Emigration Could Deplete France’s Jewish Community”—headline, Times of Israel, Jan. 14

Breaking News From 1916
“David Cameron on His ‘Patriotic Struggle’ to Quit Bread”—headline, Independent (London), Jan. 14

News You Can Use
“Smoked Whale Testicle-Flavored Beer Is Now a Thing in Iceland”—headline, New York Post, Jan. 13

Bottom Story of the Day
“New Muhammad Sketch Comes Under Fire in Muslim World”—headline, Times of Israel, Jan. 14

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
“The French terrorists were born in France but were marinated in Wahhabi-Salafi thought through the web and local mosques—not Voltaire,” observes Thomas Friedman, exercising his unique talent. Friedman is like a black hole. If he wrote as well as he does badly, he’d be brilliant.

Anyway, Friedman has an idea for solving the problem with Islam:

That would be a million-person march against the jihadists across the Arab-Muslim world, organized by Arabs and Muslims for Arabs and Muslims, without anyone in the West asking for it—not just because of what happened in Paris but because of the scores of Muslims recently murdered by jihadists in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Syria.
This proposal is a logical black hole: It is impossible to carry out precisely because it has been offered. There can no longer be such a march “without anyone in the West having asked for it,” because Friedman has asked for it.

Or maybe Friedman doesn’t count himself as “anyone.” That would be consistent with our black-hole theory. Also with that Jewish joke, the punch line of which is “Look who thinks he’s nothing.”

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