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Artists Beware: Decline to Express a Message against Your Beliefs and Be Labeled a Nazi

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. 

We have all heard that rhyme, right? It promotes a good message – don’t let name-calling get you down; don’t let words affect your identity and self-confidence.

But in today’s era of name-calling, words do hurt, sometimes even more than sticks and stones. Labels such as “Nazi” and “racist” are now tossed about by people who don’t agree with another’s ideology. But these labels don’t just roll off the shoulder – and they shouldn’t. Let’s never forget that some of the most violent, evil, unspeakable acts have been committed by Nazis and racists: genocide, slavery, abuse, and complete disregard for the dignity of the human person.

These labels penetrate the inner workings of the culture and effect change. These words are thrown around so frequently that they are now ingrained in our political system and debates. Will they make their way into the courtroom?

They already have.

Jack Phillips, a Colorado cake artist, is under fire because he politely declined to design a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. The Colorado Human Rights Commission punished Jack for this decision, and it’s no wonder given that one of the Commissioners compared him to the Nazis:

Freedom of religion … has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust … we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use … to use their religion to hurt others.

This unfair and absurd comparison is drenched in irony, as Jack’s father, a veteran, freed prisoners from the Nazi’s Buchenwald concentration camp and earned a Purple Heart for his service in World War II.

Let’s take a deeper look at Jack. He serves all customers, regardless of their background, creed, race, or sexual orientation, but he does not design custom cakes to celebrate every event or express every message.

 “I serve everybody. But I don’t make cake for every event…I’m not turning them away, it’s just this event.”

Does Jack discriminate when he declines to create a divorce cake or a Halloween cake or a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage? The answer is no.

Jack is an artist. Like all other artists, he should have the freedom to celebrate events and express messages in line with who he is and what he believes. Other artists seem to have that liberty. In the very same state, three cake shops declined to design a custom cake that violated their conscience. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that those cake shops did not discriminate. But it determined that Jack doesn’t have that same freedom.

More recently, in November 2016, fashion designer Sophie Theallet wrote an open letter encouraging other fashion designers not to design First Lady Melania Trump’s dresses because “….we consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideas.” 

Should Theallet, who refused to design clothing for Melania Trump, be called a Nazi? If the answer is no, then the same consideration needs to be given to Jack Phillips. 

Quite similar to the decision Theallet made, Jack felt like he could not in good conscience design a cake to celebrate this particular occasion because his art is an expression of his Christian beliefs.

Let’s stop with the “racist” and “Nazi” name-calling – when we allow these to be tossed around, we dishonor the millions who suffered at the hands of Nazis and racists. Furthermore, name-calling squelches dialogue and mischaracterizes the reasonable beliefs of millions of Americans. If the government can punish a creative professional for declining to create a custom piece of art that goes against his or her philosophical or religious beliefs, that should concern us all. That’s why we must stand for #JusticeforJack.

Learn more about Jack’s case, which the United States Supreme Court will hear on December 5.
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AnnMarie Pariseau

Direct Response Project Manager

AnnMarie serves as Direct Response Project Manager at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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