I trust you are making the best of this latest snow day and, if you’re reading this, that hopefully your power is back on. Our state legislature is not in session today because of the storm, but let me fill you in on a new bill that some of our representatives are pushing. House Bill 767, proposed by Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham, would eliminate First Amendment protections for people of faith who own or operate small businesses. Day’s bill prevents corporations from claiming religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. He and other supporters of the bill claim that it’s needed in order to protect LGBTQ people in the Commonwealth and is a response to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case currently pending before the Supreme Court. Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, is a Christian. Because of his faith, he politely declined to design and bake a cake for a homosexual “wedding.” This resulted in a lawsuit against him alleging unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission eventually “ordered Jack and his staff to either violate Jack’s faith by designing custom wedding cakes that celebrate same-sex marriages or stop designing all wedding cakes, which was approximately 40% of Jack’s business. In addition, Jack and his staff were ordered to go through a ‘re-education’ program and file quarterly ‘compliance’ reports telling the government every time that Jack declines a custom cake request and explaining the reasons why.”
MFI’s national legal partner, Alliance Defending Freedom, is defending Jack’s right, as a creative professional, to run his business consistently with his faith before the Supreme Court. I am hopeful that the Court will issue a decision upholding Jack’s rights and those of all faithful business owners in the next three to four months. Unfortunately, Representative Day wants to make sure people of faith in MA lose those rights, no matter what the Supreme Court rules. His legislation specifically targets people of faith who own or operate a business, and denies them the constitutional right to have their faith inform their work.
If you’re a small business owner, you’re happy to serve the public. You don’t screen customers by sexual status. In fact, you may have longtime customers who identify as LGBTQ. But you choose not to provide goods or services for ceremonies or events that violate your religious faith. To Rep. Day and the supporters of H.767, that means you discriminate. And if you are found guilty of “discrimination,” like Jack Phillips was in Colorado, you deserve to lose not only your family business but also your family’s home. This is because H767 does two things. First, it says that businesses cannot use the faith of their owners as a defense against a discrimination claim (by the way, this provision of the bill is likely a violation of the earlier Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby), AND it says that any business owners who use the rights clarified under Hobby Lobby and, hopefully, Masterpiece Cakeshop, will be held PERSONALLY liable. What types of punishment would a Christian baker like Jack Phillips be facing under Massachusetts law? Rep. Day’s bill would subject businesses and their owners to crushing fines and civil penalties- up to $50,000 for repeated violations. This is on top of damages for whatever “harm” the complainants would allege in these cases, as well as attorney fees for the costly litigation. This would hold true not just for a Christian baker but also, for example, a Muslim sign maker who refused to print a “Go Crusaders” banner for the Holy Cross football team. I raised that hypothetical with Rep. Day during a live TV debate last week on his bill. You can watch the interaction below:
Day wouldn’t answer my questions and seemed confused about the fact that his bill would subject business owners to fines. I honestly have to wonder if some of these legislators actually READ the bills they sponsor. His ignorance of how his bill works tells me that this likely isn’t something he drafted himself, but may be the work of LGBTQ activist organizations like the Transgender Political Caucus and GLAD, both of whom are cited supporting the bill in this recent article in the Boston Herald. Even H.767’s title is deceptive. It’s called, “An Act to strengthen civil rights,” but it actually puts your civil rights on the chopping block. The Hobby Lobby case was a reminder that when civil rights conflict, the state must find a balance – but not by eliminating anyone’s rights. This bill would make it so that whenever rights come into conflict, people of faith always lose.
MFI will be fighting hard against this bill and keeping you posted on it. In the interim, if you or anyone you know has been the subject of a discrimination claim that seeks to force a person of faith to violate their conscience or convictions, let me know. We can help.
For our families,