SAN DIEGO: The idea of a White House Spokesperson being forced to leave a family style restaurant seems abominable to some. But many in the mainstream media are showing little sympathy for Sarah Sanders, who was asked, along with her family, to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. Sanders is being described as a hypocrite, one whose boss, President Trump, would not stand with a same-sex couple in Colorado when they too, were refused service after visiting a baker who would not create cakes for gay weddings.
The reason Sarah Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen was because of the local restaurant’s opinion of President Trump, his controversial presidency, and those, like Sanders, who cater to the man by representing his administration.
Red Hen Tweet
Although Sanders left peacefully, she did Tweet about the incident:
Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 23, 2018
This Tweet brought about national attention and an explanation from the restaurant’s co-owner, Stephanie Wilkinson:
“I’m not a huge fan of confrontation…I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”
The so-called hypocrisy of Sarah Sanders is found in an attempt to conflate the Red Hen situation with an incident from July 2012. At the time, Charlie Craig and David Mullins of Denver dropped by Masterpiece Cake Shop to purchase a custom-made cake for their forthcoming wedding.
When owner Jack Phillips was unwilling to comply, he was taken to court. The court ruled in favor of the same-sex couple, claiming that Phillips had violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.
Just last week, in a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS set aside the Colorado verdict. While refusing to comment on the broader implications (meaning this can come up again) they did express concern for the baker’s religious rights.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Kennedy:
“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
SCOTUS Fails to render a decision that makes a decision
The court ruling has not made the controversy go away. Those who would defend Sarah Sanders are being asked, in the name of consistency, why they do not also defend Charlie Craig and David Mullins.
Josh Rivera, an Opinion editor for USA Today, wrote Sarah Huckabee Sanders guide to refusing service: Christian baker can, Red Hen can’t and put it this way:
“I’m sorry Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant — that is an embarrassing moment for anyone. But she (and all Republicans) must realize that her constant hypocrisy and her decision to use a government account to call out the “injustice” are the exact reasons why she was asked to leave in the first place. Those are two things she has control over, unlike two gay people who just want to get married.”
Laura McGann of Vox writing Sarah Sanders is upset because a restaurant wouldn’t serve her. She’s okay with it happening to gays, says:
“I happen to believe that food establishments should offer their goods to anyone willing to pay for them. Sanders does not. She thinks it’s okay, for example, for a business to hang a sign in their window saying they won’t serve gay couples. This is why, on one level, her very public dig at the owner of the Red Hen, which set off a torrent of hate tweets and threats her way, is ridiculous. It’s hypocrisy.”
This is a reference to the way Sarah Sanders answered a question at a White House press conference following the SCOTUS ruling.
But it is a distortion of what she actually said. There is a subtle but important distinction in the wording of the question put forth.
Sanders was not asked about somebody hanging a sign stating a REFUSAL of service simply on the basis of sexual preference.
The specific question was asked by Michael Shear of The New York Times:
“The lawyer for the solicitor general’s office for the administration said today in the Supreme Court if it would be legal, possible for a baker to put a sign in his window saying we don’t bake cakes for gay weddings… Does the president agree that that would be OK?”
“The president certainly supports religious liberty and that’s something he talked about during the campaign and has upheld since taking office,”
However, the hypothetical sign posted in the question was about baking, not serving.
While one can certainly argue against the tactlessness or cruelty of actually spelling out your policy on a sign, we need to back up and look at the specific case of baker, Jack Phillips since his actions were the original cause of this discussion.
His shop had no sign saying gay people were unwelcome, neither was he refusing to sell the couple a cake. He wasn’t even refusing to sell them a wedding cake. He was refusing to DECORATE the cake, not wanting to use his talent to condone an event that would violate his religious convictions.
To him, such decorations were a part of the baking process.
“It’s not about turning away these customers,” Phillips has explained time and again. “It’s about doing a cake for an event, a religious sacred event, that conflicts with my conscience,”
Although religion has been the primary defense offered by Phillips and those sympathetic to Phillips, the matter really goes beyond freedom of religion to freedom of speech itself.
Even the unreligious should be concerned inasmuch as the lower court ruling, had it been upheld, might have nurtured strong implications for the entire field of artistic expression.
Cake decorators are sought out, not merely for writing names and messages on cakes, but the unique, artistic ways in which the dessert is decorated. It would have been analogous to the government forcing novelists or film directors to put obligatory gay characters in their stories and write plots that support the practice of homosexuality.
For that matter, we could also have seen the reverse, a gay baker asked to decorate a cake with frosted lettering stating that marriage is a union only between a man and a woman!
Freedom to follow one’s own conscience, whether for religious reasons, unreligious reasons, artistic reasons, or any reason, must remain protected by our First Amendment.
The bakery incident simply does not supply a legitimate comparison with the Red Hen restaurant. The owner, was not being asked to condone the Trump administration artistically, religiously, or otherwise. She was merely asked to serve some chicken.
This is Bob Siegel, making the obvious, obvious.
About the Author
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and a regular CommDigiNews columnist. His novel “The Dangerous Christmas Ornament” is a 2017 “Distinguished Favorite” of the Independent Press Award and the New York City Big Book Award. About Read lists this book as one of the Top 30 Recommended Action Adventure Books for 11-Year-Olds!