Today the Supreme Court will hear the case of Jack Philips, the Colorado baker who declined to provide a cake for a gay couple’s wedding reception. While some have argued that, even if the state of Colorado overreached by charging Philips with unlawful discrimination, baking a cake is not considered speech for First Amendment purposes, Robert P. George and Sherif Gergis disagree:
Colorado’s order that [Philips] create same-sex wedding cakes (or quit making any cakes at all) would force him to create expressive products carrying a message he rejects. That’s unconstitutional.
Some fear a slippery slope, arguing that anything can be expressive. What if someone refused to rent out folding chairs for the reception? Or what about restaurant owners who exclude blacks because they think God wills segregation? If we exempt Mr. Phillips, won’t we have to exempt these people from anti-discrimination law? . . . [But] unlike folding chairs or restaurant service, custom wedding cakes are full-fledged speech under the First Amendment. Creating them cannot be conveniently classified as “conduct, not expression” to rationalize state coercion.
After all, the aesthetic purpose of wedding cakes—combined with the range and complexity of their possible designs—makes them just as capable of bearing expressive content as other artistic speech. Mr. Phillips’s cakes are admired precisely for their aesthetic qualities, which reflect his ideas and sensibilities. A plaster sculpture of the same size and look would without question be protected. That wedding cakes are edible is utterly beside the point. Their main purpose isn’t to sate hunger or even please the palate; it is aesthetic and expressive. They figure at receptions as a centerpiece and then part of the live program, much like a prop in a play. And no one denies that forcing artists to design props for plays promoting a state-imposed message would be unconstitutional. . . .
At some level, Colorado itself gets it. Three times the state has declined to force pro-gay bakers to provide a Christian patron with a cake they could not in conscience create given their own convictions on sexuality and marriage. Colorado was right to recognize their First Amendment right against compelled speech. It’s wrong to deny Jack Phillips that same right.