What if Kim Davis Had Been a Private Baker, and Not an Elected Clerk?

Kim Davis, a hitherto unknown county clerk became a household name after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She was criticized not only by liberals but even social conservatives who, despite perhaps being personally opposed to same-sex marriage, still believed it was morally wrong for Ms. Davis to place her religious beliefs over the law that she had sworn to uphold. But what if Kim Davis was not an elected official who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, but a private baker who refused to make wedding cakes for same-sex marriages? Would it be okay for a private person to refuse to cater to same-sex weddings?

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A baker in Colorado refused to make wedding cakes for a same-sex couples, but was ordered by a Colorado judge to choose between making wedding cakes for the same-sex couple or go to jail. The Colorado judge's decision to force the baker to cater to same-sex weddings is not an isolated incident but the nationwide trend. A couple in New York was fined for refusing to host the marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple on their farm land. Memorizes Pizza in Indiana was shut down because the owner refused to cater to same-sex weddings.

Same-sex couples undoubtedly have the right to live a normal life like every other American citizen, and they can certainly do so without infringing on the personal and religious liberty of business owners. If a vegetarian cannot coerce a steak house into serving a vegetarian dinner, why should a same-sex couple be able to coerce a baker into making same-sex cakes. It is preposterous to suggest that the "hurt" caused by refusing service to same-sex couples who can simply choose to patronize another business is greater than the hurt inflicted on business owners forced to act against their wishes or go to jail.

California Lutheran High School in 2009 found itself in the midst of a controversy after it expelled two lesbian students due to their sexual orientation. A Californian court however ruled that a private school that received no government assistance had the right to deny admission to students based on their sexual orientation. Schools certainly provide a more important service and have a greater influence on the society. It would be downright Orwellian to suggest that schools can have the right to discriminate based on sexual orientation but not business owners.

To be sure, I don't espouse the views of conservative business owners who refuse to serve same-sex couples. Business owners with hateful views towards homosexuals should certainly be persuaded to be more tolerant of the lifestyle choices of their customers -- I will not patronize a business that refuses to serve people because of their sexuality. But when we use the power of state to coerce business owners to act against their views, not only will they become more resentful to those they disagree with, but we also make ourselves vulnerable to slide down the slippery slope of censorship.

The answer to bad speech is not censorship, but good speech. The views of Memorizes Pizza that refused to cater to same-sex wedding would have faded into oblivion in the free marketplace of ideas. However, the legal battle to coerce the pizza shop to cater to same-sex weddings ended in the pizza shop being closed, but only after making a hitherto unknown pizza shop the focus of national news, a cause célèbre for social conservatives, and recipient of over $800,000 in donations.

While most people rally around the flag of First Amendment in the abstract, far fewer support speech that deeply offends them. French philosopher Voltaire articulated the fundamental premise underlying true support for freedom of speech nearly two hundred years ago: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

The religious views of some may make our blood boil, but allowing these views in the free marketplace of ideas is the price we pay for a vibrant secular democracy that we all desire. If we yield to the temptation of censoring the views that offends us, we risk being censored by those who may find our views offensive.