Culture Friday: The hostility of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 8th of March. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up today, Culture Friday.

The Colorado baker who sparked a religious-liberty fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court a year ago may only now be in the clear.

You may remember Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips won his case in 2018. Here’s a quick refresher on the facts: The state of Colorado had pursued Phillips over his refusal to create a cake that celebrated a same-sex union. An administrative law judge in the state found Phillips in violation of Colorado civil-rights law. But the Supreme Court said the state had demonstrated an inappropriate anti-religious bias, and tossed out the judge’s ruling.

REICHARD: On the heels of that decision, Colorado opened a new case against Phillips. The state civil-rights commission acted on a complaint that the baker refused to make a cake celebrating a gender transition.

In the course of this new legal fight, attorneys for Phillips uncovered yet more evidence of anti-religious bias on the part of the civil-rights commission.

EICHER: Back to the original controversy, the Supreme Court cited the public remarks of civil-rights commissioner Diann Rice. The audio you’re about to hear is of relatively poor quality, so you’ll need to listen with care. But you’ll hear the commissioner claim that religious freedom is just a cover for all sorts of oppression: from slavery to the Holocaust, and more besides.

RICE: 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.

REICHARD: “One of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”

The Supreme Court specifically cited those words. The court said they prove that the state had failed to treat Jack Phillips’s religious objection “with the neutrality that” the First Amendment requires of government.

EICHER: After that decision, June 22nd of last year, two commissioners doubled down on that bias. Rice is no longer a commissioner, but you’ll hear her words defended.

Again, the audio is a bit off-mic. First, is Commissioner Rita Lewis expressing her disappointment with the Supreme Court, and this is key, she found nothing wrong with Rice’s comments.

LEWIS: I support Commissioner Diann Rice and her comments. I don’t think she said anything wrong.

The second bit of audio is from Commissioner Carol Fabrizio. She says she stands by the statements, she’s proud of her former colleague, and she agrees with her.

FABRIZIO: I’m almost glad that something the Commissioner said ended up public and used, because I think it was the right thing.

Last week, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys turned up this audio and made it publicly available. On Tuesday, the civil rights commission dismissed its case against Jack Phillips.

It’s Culture Friday and John Stonestreet joins me now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick.

EICHER: You’ve followed the Jack Phillips case from the beginning and I’m sure you have a few thoughts on what, in reality, seems the end of this.

But I do want you to interact with the idea that religious liberty, for some, is just a cover for bigotry.

Because a story earlier in the week, I think, also underlined the point. Former Vice President Joe Biden was making a point about the diplomatic distance between the United States and European leaders. He’d mentioned the chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel had spoken and offered the view that Europe can’t count on the United States anymore.

BIDEN: The fact of the matter is, it was followed on by a guy who’s a decent guy, our vice president, who stood before this group of allies and leaders and said, ‘I am here on behalf of President Trump.’ And there was dead silence.

A guy who’s a decent guy. He means Vice President Mike Pence. Biden’s simply saying, just a throwaway observation, that the vice president is a “decent guy” brought criticism from fellow Democrats, who said no advocate of religious freedom like Pence can possibly be described as decent. Biden had to walk back the statement and apologize for it.

That’s the issue, the growing insistence that religious liberty is nothing but bigotry.

STONESTREET: Yeah, I mean, it’s really amazing that now to disagree means that it’s impossible to be civil. If you’re on the wrong side of, really, most of the time progressivism, but I think both sides are guilty right now. Arthur Brooks had a really interesting op-ed recently, of course, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, where he said, you know, we should all give up contempt for lent. And I think that’s probably a good idea. That, really, this idea that you cannot hold to certain views without being a bad person, and that’s the pushback that Joe Biden got. And, by the way, that’s why the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had to drop their case is because the Supreme Court, of course, in the Masterpiece Cake Shop ruling ruled that they treated Jack unfairly. They had treated his religious views with contempt and they turned around on the second complaint that was filed and was really a set-up, obviously, by a transgender lawyer activist. And treated him with contempt all over again. And ADF was able to uncover some remarkable statements by commissioners.

Look, I’m thankful for Jack Phillips that his head is hopefully out of the water, at least for now. This has been a 7-year journey. He’s a friend. He was at our church not that long ago, Nick, and shared his story. I mean, after 7 years still broke down about some of the ways that he had been treated and about what the Lord was teaching him through all of this. He’s really a remarkable man. But the Colorado Civil Rights Commission is a clear example of basically what Joe Biden went through. That basically you cannot suggest these days that someone who holds certain views is a good person. And if you meet Jack Phillips you’ll know he’s a good person. If you meet a whole lot of people who believe certain things about the biological realities of sex and gender and the implications for things like marriage and family, you can’t be nice enough. You can’t be winsome enough. Doesn’t mean we should stop being winsome. It just means we need to understand what’s coming our direction.

EICHER: I’d like to ask you about a case that maybe some mistake for a religious-liberty matter. It’s actually an Establishment Clause case. On Monday’s program we carried a thorough analysis of the arguments at the Supreme Court last week.

This is the Peace Cross case, the World War I memorial.

What struck me in listening to it were the efforts some of the advocates were making to assure the court of the “secular purpose” of the cross to honor those who died in the war.

Now, that’s Supreme Court precedent. There has to be a secular purpose or it fails the test. I get it.

But I wonder, what’s the value of the whole exercise if you win a legal argument by stripping the cross of its meaning? What do you say, John?

STONESTREET: Yeah, I mean, it’s one of the troubling things. I mean, the Supreme Court justices really seemed intent on wanting to keep the peace cross under government care. And that it didn’t really create a problem. And it was almost like by all means necessary. So really Elena Kagan’s line that, well, this cross really doesn’t have any religious meaning and it’s really just a memorial to the dead. That’s a troubling thing because basically the argument becomes it’s okay because it’s not religious. That’s not the point we want to make in defending our first amendment sorts of rights. In other words, the point is that religion belongs in the public square, not that it doesn’t.

Now, look, this was a huge case and I think one of the things that was taking place was the implications if a cross doesn’t belong on public land and what that would mean, for example, for, say, Arlington National Cemetery. Just the sheer scale of the religious symbolism that would have to be removed from public buildings. Think just of the, if you’ve been to the Museum of the Bible, Nick, they’ve got this flyover kind of cool 3D sort of thing and it kind of goes from government building to government building showing all the Bible verses that are there.

And you kind of think, well, if this peace cross case went the wrong direction, I mean, we’re just going to have to tear down these historic buildings. That can’t happen. It’s not a win at all to say that the only way that these Bible verses can stay is by basically presuming that they’re not religious anymore than the cross or anymore than any other religious symbol.

Religion contributes to the public square. The idea of the establishment clause was that the state can’t establish a religion, not that it can’t respect and create space for religious beliefs. Religious beliefs have always found their place in the public square because they deal with the human condition just like laws do, just like policies do, just like the constitution does. And so it contributes to the public discourse and religious symbols need to remain religious even while they’re in the middle of our public discourse and our public remembrances.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. And, John, thank you.

STONESTREET: Thank you, Nick.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File) In this June 4, 2018, file photo, baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, manages his shop in Lakewood, Colo. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Culture Friday: The hostility of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission

  1. Kristina Johnson says:

    The ending part about religion in the public square was so well put. Thank you!

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