One of these is not like the others.
Editorialists across the country have been falling all over themselves to compare Stephanie Wilkinson — co-owner of The Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, and famous, overnight, for kicking White House press secretary Sarah Sanders out of her establishment — to Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman.
Phillips is owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, and the beneficiary earlier this month of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that reversed a government order punishing him for declining to create a custom-decorated wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage.
Stutzman is a floral artist who owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, and the Supreme Court just sent her case (she, too, declined to create her kind of art for a same-sex wedding) back to the Washington courts for review in wake of the Masterpiece decision.
Opinion writers have been suggesting that conservatives are getting what Sanders and her family did not: their just desserts. “How do you like being the one turned down and kicked to the curb?” they’re suggesting, in so many words. “You want service denied? Eat THIS!” etc.
There’s little to be said, as we’re all learning, that will mollify, defuse, or dampen the blind, irrational, white-hot hatred that marks so much of our public discourse. But, for the record, the would-be comparisons don’t work, for several reasons.
One, neither Phillips nor Stutzman refused to serve the customers in question. Both freely offer to serve anyone, anytime, in terms of selling the wares their respective shops have to offer. What they will not do is use their creative talents to make a special work of art celebrating an idea — same-sex marriage — that conflicts with their deepest personal religious convictions.
That’s the second difference. Their motivation was grounded in their faith, not their politics. Wilkinson’s decision was all about a political difference of opinion, and under Virginia law, she was free to voice her vituperation by compelling Sanders and her family to vacate her premises.
Apparently, kicking the family out wasn’t enough, though. The Sanders family looked to finish their abbreviated meal at a neighboring establishment, and Wilkinson reportedly organized a group of people to scream from the sidewalk of the restaurant at the Sanders family across the street, again to protest Sanders, her employer, and the policies of his administration.
That’s the third, and perhaps most crucial, difference between Wilkinson and the artists (cake and floral). For the restaurateur, the issues were personal. She clearly wanted Sanders to feel bad — embarrassed, humiliated, awful. She wanted to actively, publicly punish Sanders for what she and her boss believe.
But Phillips and Stutzman expressed no personal animosity whatsoever against their would-be customers. They spoke gently. They offered reasonable alternatives. They asked no one to leave. Stutzman and the man she declined to create for actually hugged before he left her shop.
Nothing in their history, demeanor, words, or manner has suggested anything but personal grace and respectful disagreement over an idea. Yet the full weight of the law, wrapped in anti-religious hostility, has been brought down on both of them not just by their legal opponents, but by the governments of their respective states.
Wilkinson is being widely applauded for her public stand. But Phillips and Stutzman have each been threatened with the complete destruction of their businesses. Stutzman and her husband may yet lose their home and life savings, and Phillips (whose father helped liberate Nazi concentration camps) has been publicly denounced by a member of his state’s Civil Rights Commission as akin to a Nazi.
No, there’s little to compare between what the cake and floral artists did and what the owner of The Red Hen elected to do to a customer in her restaurant. Phillips and Stutzman have been abused enough. Don’t add that insult to their injuries.
(photo credit, homepage image: The Red Hen, Google Maps; photo credit, article image: The Red Hen Lexington, Facebook)
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