The US Supreme Court has just ruled in favour of the owners of an American bakery who refused to bake a cake for customers celebrating a same-sex marriage. According to a majority of US Supreme Court Justices, forcing the owners of a business to bake the type of cake in question if a same-sex marriage ceremony violates their genuinely held religious beliefs, constitutes an infringement of the Constitutional rights of the bakery owners which in this case would appear to trump the civil rights of the customers, even in an era where US civil rights protections originally designed to protect racial minorities are now also generally applied to other groups such as Americans of a same-sex lifestyle.
The short term implication of the ruling, one which is set to keep other courts busy for years to come is the issue of where one’s rights to run a business according to one’s Constitutionally protected beliefs interferes with civil rights legislation designed to insure that business owners cannot systematically discriminate against groups of potential customers based on their race, religion or sexual orientation. For example, could one argue that their religion prohibits them from serving a cake with the image of a black couple which celebrates the wedding of two African Americans because the religion in question is self-evidently racist? While few mainstream religious leaders would argue for the hypothetical racist bakery owner, the tendency of the US to view what constitutes a religion more liberally than nations which do not separate church and state leaves this particular can of worms at least partly open.
But there is another big issue that the recent Supreme Court ruling raises. The First Amendment covers one’s right to worship freely, one’s right not to worship, one’s right to have no religion (aka be an atheist or agnostic) and one’s secular rights to freely speak and assemble. The Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement (BDS) is a socio-political human rights campaign wherein people of all backgrounds throughout the world promote the boycotting of goods, services and transactions from, to and/or in “Israel”.
The entirely peaceful and voluntary movement has supporters throughout the world, including a large number in the United States. The movement furthermore consists of people of all races and ethnic background, all religious backgrounds and atheists, homosexual and heterosexual individuals – all of whom agree on the need to do to the “Israeli” regime in the 21st century what was done to the South African Apartheid regime in the 1980s.
In the past several years, some US states have passed laws saying that anyone who participates in BDS even in a passive capacity will not be able to sign business deals with the state government. Infamously, after a fairly recent hurricane in the US state of Texas, one local government organisation said that aid to rebuild damaged homes would not be available to owners of damaged property who support BDS.
Now, both the US Senate and US House of Representatives are working on passing bills which experts describe as an attempt to criminalise support of BDS throughout the United States. While many Constitutional lawyers in the United States have stated that these bills are a prima facie violation of the First Amendment, the new precedent set by the US Supreme Court in the so-called ‘gay wedding cake’ ruling may have major implications to laws at both a state and federal level which attempt to stifle the economic activities and free speech of those who support BDS.
If an individual or business owner supports BDS as a personal belief of supreme conviction, such a belief can be considered as much a part of his or her core belief system as the religious beliefs of the owner of the bakery whose case went before the Supreme Court. To say otherwise would be to deny that the same protections which apply to deeply held religious beliefs also apply to those with deeply held secular beliefs, especially if for some, supporting BDS is part of a religious belief which consists of deeply held convictions against the killing of innocent human life. In any case, the First Amendment covers both secular free speech and the right to peacefully and freely practice a religion.
Taken in totality, the precedent set by the controversial Supreme Court ruling should be applied to all causes of individuals supporting BDS and therefore, the state laws which prohibit government from transacting with individuals and businesses who support BDS should be struck down. Likewise the bills before the US Congress regarding criminalising BDS should be killed at once.
Forcing a BDS supporter to do business with a regime they have voluntarily boycotted can now be seen as no different than forcing a bakery owner whose religion opposes same-sex marriage to bake a cake for such a wedding ceremony.
While the cake ruling is generally being viewed through the prism of America’s domestic so-called culture wars, it may have implications far beyond this realm. I have no idea whether the owner of the bakery in question supports BDS, opposes BDS or has even heard of BDS, but ironically as many Evangelical Christians who in the US are overwhelmingly Zionist, rushed to support the bakery owner, it turns out that his cause may now also be the cause of BDS. Stranger things have happened and they doubtlessly will continue to happen.