Has our government begun to worry more about securing its citizens’ emotional well-being than protecting our fundamental rights? If recent developments in the Oregon bakery case are any indicator, then the answer might be “yes.”
In 2013, Aaron and Melssia Klein, owners of the bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa, courteously refused to provide a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. The Bowman-Cryers proceeded to take Kleins to court. This year, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 in damages to the Bowman-Cryers. In response to this case, the Kleins posted a sign in their bakery which reads as follows:
Closed but still in business. You can reach me by … this fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong. Your religious freedom is becoming not free anymore. This is ridiculous that we cannot practice our faith. The LORD is good and we will continue to serve HIM with all our heart.
A simple statement of faith; no more, no less.
This brought on what the Daily Signal has accurately described as a “gag order” from Mr. Avakian. Mr. Akavian ordered the Kleines to “cease and desist” from publicly stating that they would continue denying service to same-sex weddings, and effectively preventing them from stating the reasons for their refusal to serve homosexual weddings. This gag order, which seems to fly in the face of the United States Constitution, has served to silence a Christian couple from giving public expression to their beliefs. This has brought outrage from the political right, with one Oregon writer even calling Avakian a “fascist” for his decisions, while some left-wing writers like Mark Joseph Stern at Slate have tried to deny that Avakian gagged the Kleins at all. (In typical Leftist fashion, reality can be denied when it is inconvenient.)
The reason stated for this gag order is that it will prevent further harm from being done to the wronged lesbian couple. The “harm” is allegedly “emotional and mental suffering resulting from denial of service.” This included Rachel Bowman-Cryer’s “inability to control her emotions” after learning the Kleins would not serve her same-sex wedding.
One is tempted to ask: how exactly is Rachel’s inability to control her emotions the fault of the Kleins?
This sort of “harm” is particularly troubling, because it exculpates the person in pain from any responsibility for his or her own actions and feelings. The order includes a vivid account of the lesbian couples’ extended bought of emotional trauma, including tears, headaches, depression, and other forms of distress. This inability to deal with “no” is hardly the fault of the Kleins.
But Mr. Avakian has seen fit to blame this on the Kleins anyway. He has determined that First Amendment rights to freedom of speech do not count, at least where Christian words are being spoken and gay feelings are being hurt. The role of government, in this understanding, is to alleviate emotional pain by ensuring that no offense may be given to those groups which are granted special protections.
It hardly needs to be stated that this outcome undermines the rule of law.
Such restrictions upon the rights of Christian citizens are another step in the unfolding of what scholar Thomas Szasz called “the therapeutic state,” which exists to make people feel good about themselves. Government, in the mind of conservatives, exists to provide a means by which to reconcile the competing interests in society without continually resorting to violence. But for the narcissist–and research has suggested that homosexual individuals are more narcissistic than others–government must ameliorate the individual’s lack of self-worth, and ensure that his fragile ego is undisturbed by the horrors of finding that all do not smile upon his choices.
This change in how government is expected to operate is ominous for the future of American society. As a Republic, our government exists to defend the interests of the nation, rather than the emotional distress of kvetching bands of individuals. To say that government should act therapeutically is to also say that our rights are not “God given,” but instead are to be granted at the whim of bureaucrats.
In the long-run, this new imposition of limits upon the speech of citizens will likely continue to grow. One prediction suggests that Christian colleges will be forced to conform to the cultural zeitgeist, or else face deprivation of their accreditation and Federal funding. Since both of these things are necessary to have a college today, the forces of cultural overturning have all they need to force us to conform. Or rather… to try to force us.
One upside is that, finally, the Left is starting to behave in an openly totalitarian manner. Many schools, colleges, businesses, and churches have come under fire, and will continue to the targets of attack by social justice activists of all stripes.
Conservatives should prepare to fight the good fight. After all, it’s better than giving in.