Free hate speech?

wedding cake top
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A follow-up to the preceding Charlie Hebdo post, with a different approach: having one’s cake and eating it, too.

If a baker is required by law to make a wedding cake promoting same-sex marriage, should that same baker be required by law to make a cake with an anti-gay message?

That is essentially the case a court in Denver, Colorado, may have to consider (if it gets that far). Reports the Daily Mail, among others: “An anti-gay activist has filed a religious discrimination complaint against a bakery that refused to decorate a Bible-shaped cake with words describing homosexuals as ‘detestable’. … (The bakery) also refused the elderly man’s request for a design featuring two men holding hands with an ‘X’ over them, followed by the words ‘god hates homosexuality’.”

This is obviously a test case, in response to court decisions in the United States and the United Kingdom forcing bakeries to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples despite the anti-gay religious beliefs of the bakers.

So, where do we draw the line on free speech? Does the anti-gay activist have a case? Should the baker have to make him an anti-gay cake? Does the anti-gay person have a right to offend gay people, and to promote anti-gay sentiment with a cake?

After reading the responses to the preceding Charlie Hebdo post, I suspect many would side with the anti-gay activist on principle, i.e. free speech.

But if you did side with Charlie Hebdo and don’t side with the anti-gay activist, I would be curious to hear why Charlie Hebdo should be allowed to promote what millions consider to be anti-Muslim views while an anti-gay activist should not be allowed to express his views.

For discussion . . .

Personally, I don’t have an opinion about the Colorado case yet. I am still thinking about it.

What say you?

— Jillian

15 thoughts on “Free hate speech?

  1. This is a false dichotomy.

    Refusing to provide service to someone because they are LGBT is discrimination.

    Refusing to do something which is promoting discrimination is not discrimination in the legal sense.

    Had the baker refused to make religiously themed cakes as a general rule that would be one thing, that is not the case. She refused to decorate a cake with hate-filled themes for a religious person – somewhat different.

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    1. True, MgS. I realize the Charlie Hebdo case and the bakery case can’t be compared equally. But the bakery case did raise those questions in my mind, and I want to hear the opinions of others.

      I asked more than one question in this post: about the baker’s rights and the anti-gay activist’s rights, and the right to offend others with blatant — even if it’s debatable and subjective — discrimination, as was done by Charlie Hebdo and as the anti-gay activist is doing or trying to do by raising this issue in the first place.

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  2. I have often wondered why the cartoonists get a free pass, yet the dental students at Dalhousie are getting pilloried. The students seem to have offended a sensitive group and are being punished, just like the cartoonists, albeit differently. No one is jumping up to rally with signs saying Je suis Murphy the Molar. Is that because it is OK to hate Muslims, but not women?
    And does not the baker have the right to run his private business as he sees fit? That is just crazy. The poor baker now has to ‘lawyer up’ due to craziness of some fundamentalist Christian. The case should be tossed out. Private property, private business, no place for judicial edict.

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    1. Tim, while I in no way would support the anti-gay Christian (I am an LGBTQ advocate), the baker’s business is not private if the bakery opens its doors to the public.

      I think it raises the larger issue of just what should be defined as hate and what isn’t and how those views can be expressed, i.e. a freedom of speech issue: the Christian does have the right to preach that homosexuality is “immoral,” as so many Christians do preach. But should he be allowed to force a bakery to make a cake as a vehicle to preach that message? If not, then why should a baker be forced to make a cake with a same-sex message that he feels in his heart is immoral?

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  3. “If a baker is required by law to make a wedding cake promoting same-sex marriage, should that same baker be required by law to make a cake with an anti-gay message?”

    No. Gays are a protected class, so to refuse to do business with them because you don’t like gays would be an illegal discrimination. It would be no different from refusing service to a Jew or Muslim simply because they are a Jew or Muslim customer.

    However, the business is perfectly within his rights to refuse service to anyone with obnoxious, illegal or otherwise objectionable request. Simply put, presenting a homophobic message on a wedding cake just to be insulting is not a protected deeply held religious position. If the judge sides with the religious nut, then where can I find a religion that holds nudity as a deeply held religious belief?

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    1. Thanks, Steve. I’m with you on all of this, but the essential question is about free speech: The anti-gay guy is allowed to preach that homosexuality is “immoral.” So, is his right to free speech being compromised by the baker’s refusal to write the message on the cake?

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      1. In Canada both are protected classes under law.

        The ethical / legal issue for the baker is whether they are willing to be accessory to promoting a hateful message.

        This is in some ways a key distinction: Making a wedding cake for a gay couple is just making a cake – it is not promoting any form of discriminatory action, nor is it an act that could be construed as discriminatory.

        Flip side: making a cake with a hateful message and images on it is facilitating discrimination. Note that the baker actually only refused to provide the specific decorations, and in fact offered to provide materials so the purchaser could decorate it as they wished.

        The argument of the plaintiff is basically equivalent to the KKK saying that their “free speech” rights are being infringed upon because the baker won’t decorate a cake with a burning cross. Free speech is not an absolute right – it is naturally limited by the impact of that speech upon others.

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      2. Good points.

        To take this a step further, what about Charlie Hebdo’s impact on Muslims who believe caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad are offensive, no matter how he is portrayed in them?

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      3. “To take this a step further, what about Charlie Hebdo’s impact on Muslims who believe caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad are offensive, no matter how he is portrayed in them”

        As I said before, why do Muslims alone in a world of hundreds of religions have a “right” to not be offended?

        Freedom of speech that does not embrace the right to offend is a farce. I am under no obligation to respect anyone’s beliefs. Respect is earned; it is not an entitlement. I may regard creationists as nutty, which would make holding their beliefs in high regard nonsensical. In kind, if I proclaim on a street corner that a certain Japanese beetle in my back garden is the new Messiah, you are also within your rights to ridicule me as a fruitcake.

        Free speech includes the fact that we have to be free to outrage one another.

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  4. “I would be curious to hear why Charlie Hebdo should be allowed to promote what millions consider to be anti-Muslim views while an anti-gay activist should not be allowed to express his views..” Precisely. Allahu Akbar or JH(F)C. Sorry, very cynical these dark days

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    1. “So then, the anti-gay activist has a right to offend, providing he writes the message on the cake, right?”

      Yes. that’s what free speech is. The homophobe has much right to say what his tiny little mind thinks as I do to call him an idiot. There is no right to not be offended.

      “I would be curious to hear why Charlie Hebdo should be allowed to promote what millions consider to be anti-Muslim views while an anti-gay activist should not be allowed to express his views..”

      They are both equally free to say what they think, no matter how objectionable or offensive it is. What many forget is that only the government can deny free speech because only the government can guarantee it.

      When we self-censor, it is not a denial of free speech. You may self-censor because you are sympathetic to the target of the speech. It’s within your free speech rights to call a black man a nigger, but you don’t because it’s a pejorative that most don’t use because it offends us. You may self-censor because you are afraid. It’s perfectly legitimate to self-censor out of fear, but your free speech rights have not been violated because you made the decision, not the government. MSNBC stated quite clearly why they chose to not show the images that Charlie Hebdo published. While emphasizing that they had the right to publish them, they chose not to. Not out of respect of Islam, but to protect their assets (reporters and producers) who are working in the Muslim countries.

      The anti-gay activist (is stupidity an activity?) is allowed to express his views, but in the case of the cake, he chose to not do so – the homophobe wants to force the cake maker to do it for him.

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  5. Lots of issues here.

    Promoting violence is one thing. Promoting hate is another, although countries such as Canada have laws against hate-speech.

    In fact, Charlie Hebo did not promote hate. It made fun of something, but it made fun of lots of things. It is a stupid, adolescent little magazine that no one ever heard of before this attack. (Yes, supposedly they had a million readers. Maybe, maybe not, but a million readers out of the whole world, or even out of the francophone world is nothing.) Their attackers promoted them to world-wide heroes, with millions of copies being sold, and respectable news outlets that had refused to reprint their cartoons out of respect to their Moslem readers now feel obligated to reproduce them. In that sense, the attacks were highly counterproductive.

    Is a business “public” just because it opens its doors publicly? Personally, I have to doubt that. The government is public and cannot be permitted to discriminate. However a private business is precisely that: private. If they wish to be dunderheads, and lose business because of it, by refusing service to certain groups, that should be their right. There are boycotts and other tools for dealing with them besides the courts. Yes, I’m standing up for the right of the bakery to not make gay wedding cakes. They were not promoting violence against gays, they were accepting the loss of business by refusing to serve them. As for the person who wanted a “I disagree with gay marriage cake,” well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. (Or perhaps, considering we are discussing same-sex marriage, “what’s good for the goose is good for the goose.”) If a private business can be forced to make a cake for something they politically, religiously, or philosophically disagree with, then so can one be forced to make a cake for the opposite opinion.

    Again, I draw the line at promoting violence or even hatred; there are people who are holding unpopular opinions, but free speech is just that: being permitted to hold, and express opinions, even if unpopular.

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