Two cases highlight both free speech and property rights, along with the principle of human productivity.
A case out of California, of all places, highlights not only the right of every individual to live and do business according to their sincerely held religious beliefs, but also free speech. I want to also highlight individual property rights and the principle of human productivity in the case.
A recent article shares the case of Cathy Miller, the owner of a California baker called Tastries Bakery. Miller was asked to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony but declined based on her religious convictions. A California judge ruled in favor of Miller, saying that “to force such compliance would do violence to the essentials of Free Speech.”
The article states:
“Kern County Judge David Lampe ruled that the state could not force Cathy Miller, owner of Tastries Bakery, to bake a cake that would go against her beliefs, 'For this court to force such compliance would do violence to the essentials of Free Speech guaranteed under the First Amendment,' the judge said in the ruling...'Furthermore, here the State minimizes the fact that Miller has provided for an alternative means for potential customers to receive the product they desire through the services of another talent. The fact that Rodriguez-Del Rios (the couple) feel they will suffer indignity from Miller’s choice is not sufficient to deny constitutional protection,' the judge wrote.”
The judge's comments are refreshing. He seems to recognize that individuals should be allowed to live and do business based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. His comments further suggest that business owners have the right to discriminate. I'm not talking about the kind of discrimination that is morally repugnant, discrimination based on sex, gender, or race. Saying “I'm not baking you a cake because you are a woman” is egregious.
But, and this is an important distinction, refusing to take part in an event, or creating art, or giving support to a message that violates a persons sincerely held convictions is an inherent human right. No person should ever be forced to participate in an event or made to advocate a message that they do not support. It's a basic element of freedom. Just as corporations can choose to not do business with the NRA, so too a business owner can choose not to participate in an event (like a wedding).
Furthermore, every person is sovereign over their own property. (Not in the biblical sense, God is sovereign over all things. But in the legal sense.) Compelling a person to bake a cake is a violation of their property rights. Every person owns his or her property, including their name, the art they produce and the speech they utter. Compelling someone to take part in something that violates their conscience is to violate that persons property rights.
But this would also be a violation of the principle of human productivity. Every person was created to be productive in some way. Laws or rulings that frustrate that productivity serve no good. Such laws or judgments only dampen the human desire for productivity. Such a habit of any government (or corporation) will ultimately result in less productivity. Frustrated citizens that have no incentive to be productive is not helpful in creating and sustaining wealth, or prospering nationally.
A similar case out of Baltimore, MD, further reiterates that speech should not be compelled. An article recently reported:
“In a decision with major national implications for pregnancy centers across the country, a three-judge panel of the U.S. court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit unanimously affirmed that a Baltimore City ordinance requiring pro-life pregnancy care centers to post signs promoting abortions violated their First Amendment free speech rights...The court said, 'The compelled speech at issue here raises particularly troubling First Amendment concerns. At bottom, the disclaimer portrays abortion as one among a menu of morally equivalent choices. While that may be the city’s view, it is not the center’s.'”
The court rightly recognized that forcing a pregnancy care center to promote abortion would be forcing them to violate their conscience, religious convictions, mission, and compelling them to speak. Such a law would be an obvious violation of the pregnancy center's rights.
What the court did not mention is that the law would also violate the pregnancy center's property rights, and right to be productive.
If this Baltimore law were to remain intact it would force the pregnancy center to use their property for a purpose that violates their conscience. It would be forcing the pregnancy center to do business. But forcing any person or corporation to do business is a violation of property rights. Imagine being told, as a business owner, that you must be open every Saturday. This would be a violation of your property rights, as the business owner to conduct business as you see fit. The same is true if the city tells you that you must participate in a specific message.
Such a law would also frustrate your ability to be productive. You would have to spend time explaining why you oppose abortion and turning abortion seekers away instead of engaging in your stated business purpose. But thankfully the court got this one right and recognized that speech cannot be forced or coerced.
It's good to see the courts recognizing that free speech applies to business owners and their deeply held convictions. I hope the courts will also recognize the property rights of business owners as well. Understanding the property rights of all people will help the courts apply laws evenly among citizens and business owners. For now, however, let's be thankful the court upheld freedom.