The US Supreme Court finally offered a decision on the masterpiece cake shop case. But while the court narrowly ruled in favour of the baker, the decision should not give hope to the adherents of liberty and small government.
The masterpiece cake shop case looked to answer the classic question posed toward all free societies, namely should we tolerate the actions of the intolerant? The case posed the classic example of a gay couple that were refused service by a Christian baker who didn’t want to provide a cake for their wedding based on his sincerely held religious beliefs.
Despite ruling in the bakers favour, the court declined to offer a definitive answer to the central question at the heart of the case. Namely, do the first amendment rights of the service provider trump the rights of the couple not to be discriminated against? The ruling of the court however focused mainly on the technicalities of this specific case rather than the broader issue, thus refusing to set precedent for this area.
Essentially, the issue at hand boils down to whether or not you believe that the government has the right to compel you, as a business owner, to provide a good or service against your will. A vote in favour would be profoundly antithetical to the entire voluntary basis for capitalism. Indeed, one has to ask whether you would even want a good or service produced by a reluctant and maybe bitter provider. As a business owner you have the right to provide your services to whomever you want, government should not be able (or indeed willing) to compel you to do otherwise.
The justification for the affirmative answer to the aforementioned question is that once a business operates in the public domain they loose the right to discriminate among their clientele. However one has to ask whether that would be the best way to combat intolerant attitudes, by forcing the intolerant to act tolerant and essentially attempting to legislate your way to tolerance.
Proponents of small government reject this idea of ‘enforced tolerance’, instead choosing to rely upon social pressures and the free market to gradually erode intolerance within a society. As indeed just as you absolutely should have the right to discriminate, I also have the right to voice my disapproval with your actions and back that up with a boycott of your business. In effect, it should be society that determines who does business and not distant government bureaucrats.
The common conclusion then associated with this approach by liberals is that it would effectively demarcate society and its services along lines of gender, race or sexual identity. This idea, that a benevolent government holds society’s racist and sexist feelings at bay is absurd. However, this idea is incredibly attractive to many on the left who have even gone as far as to claim that America hasn’t progressed socially since it’s founding.
Continued societal progress can only come from confronting intolerance head on as a society and bringing these feelings out into the open is the only way to meaningfully achieve this. This is the best approach and one advocated by proponents of small government. However, simply because this case was decided narrowly in their favour does not mean that this result should breed complacency in America. Or indeed among proponents of small-government everywhere.
In the UK for example, large amounts of this discussion are irrelevant, as the dominant philosophy of British policy appears to be ‘if you don’t like it, ban it’. Which has removed any attempt to have these difficult conversations about a societal path to tolerance. If British policymakers are serious about confronting intolerance then they should pass the torch onto British society. This doesn’t look to be the case in the near future however, as Parliament points its beady eye toward the online community with potential new ‘hate speech’ legislation.
For the future, the masterpiece cake shop case has failed to be the staring point for the discussion on tolerance that America needs. Indeed that Britain desperately needs as well. A substantive discussion on this issue needs to be had before broad policy movements are made. And that needs to happen sooner rather than later.