In case you haven’t been following the news, the NFL, or the little blue bird I like to call Tweety, Colin Kaepernick is trending. Again. But this time it is not for kneeling on the field during the national anthem. It is because he is not even on the field during the national anthem.
If you’ve missed the off-the-field action, here are the highlights.
- March: Kaepernick opts out of the final year of his contract with the 49ers.
- April – present day: No NFL team signs Kaepernick.
- August 23: More than 1,000 people rally outside NFL headquarters in New York, demanding that Kaepernick be signed by the start of the regular season next month.
- August 24: Two bars in Chicago announce their TVs are on the fritz they will not show any NFL games until Kaepernick is signed.
Throw in Michael Vick saying Kaepernick should cut his hair to “be presentable,” then Vick apologizing and saying “his Afro has nothing to do with him being signed,” and Jim Brown arguing that Kaepernick should be an activist or a football player but not both, and we’ve got ourselves a good ‘ol-fashioned controversy. (Not that conflict has been missing from the news cycle.)
I love it. NFL teams are free to sign Kaepernick, not sign him, or offer him a discount on season tickets. Those who don’t agree with Kaepernick’s views are free to cheer his current unemployment, wave a flag, or whistle the national anthem all the way home. Fans of Kaepernick are free to fly to New York and protest outside the NFL, burn a flag, and decry the injustice of it all. And yes, two bars in Chicago are absolutely free to pursue a new demographic by playing Lifetime movies on Sunday afternoons.
It’s the beauty of America. The beauty of freedom of speech and conscience. And yes, the beauty of learning to co-exist with people who think differently than you.
Now, Let’s Join Another Game in Progress
In Colorado, Jack Phillips is facing a very different set of rules. Like Kaepernick, Jack took a principled stand in relation to his career. Jack is a cake artist and decided years ago that while he would serve any individual who came into his shop, he would not accept invitations to create certain custom cakes. Cakes with alcohol in them, and cakes that promote atheism, racism, or indecency were on that list. So were cakes that were anti-American. So if you want a flag-burning cake for your Kaepernick protest, Jack is probably not your guy.
It turns out, no one cared too much if Jack declined an invitation to make a cake with alcohol in it, or a flag-burning cake, or a Halloween cake. If they did care, they voted with their wallets and took their business elsewhere. That’s fine with Jack, because he doesn’t want to force anyone to believe what he believes; he does, however, want that courtesy to go both ways. He wants true tolerance, the kind where we can co-exist with people who think differently than we do. Sound familiar?
No problems there. But there’s another type of cake Jack doesn’t design: cakes for same-sex weddings. That’s the one that has Jack scheduled to go before the U.S. Supreme Court later this year. Because when two men entered Jack’s Masterpiece Cakeshop and asked that Jack design a wedding cake for their same-sex ceremony, Jack politely told the couple that he would gladly sell them anything in his store, but designing a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage was not something he could do.
So why is Kaepernick’s situation playing out in the court of public opinion while Jack’s is playing out in the Supreme Court of the United States?
When the couple left Jack’s shop, they had a range of options. Among other things, they could have applauded his free exercise of conscience based on his sincerely held religious beliefs (unlikely in this situation, though not unprecedented). They could have held a rally imploring Jack to change his views, or they could have voted with their wallets and taken their business elsewhere (which they did).
But they took an additional action, one we haven’t seen in the Kaepernick situation. The men asked the government to punish Jack for attempting to live peacefully according to his views, and—when offered the power to interfere—the government obliged.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission determined that Phillips’s decision to live by his conscience was unlawful and ordered him to re-educate his staff, file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years, and create wedding cakes for same-sex weddings if he creates wedding cakes at all. That’s why Jack finds himself preparing to go to the Supreme Court and ask the justices to protect free speech and religious freedom for all people.
Too Many Men on the Field
The day after the news broke that Chicago bars were announcing their plans to nix NFL games, attorneys for Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib, were in a courtroom in Phoenix, Arizona. As I’ve written before, they also face something Kaepernick does not: government interference and punishment.
Meanwhile, Barronelle Stutzman is waiting to hear whether the Supreme Court will hear her case, and this 72-year-old grandmother stands to lose everything. She is also the victim of government interference and punishment.
If you disagree with Jack, Brush & Nib, and Barronelle, then write a letter to the editor, attend a rally, and otherwise express your beliefs. Raise a flag, burn a flag, but don’t give the government the power to throw a flag.
If the government can force a Christian cake artist to design and create a cake for a same-sex wedding, it can force a Muslim singer to offer her services for an Easter service, or a liberal speechwriter to draft speeches for a conservative candidate, or a pro-gun control T-shirt designer to create shirts for the National Rifle Association that say “more guns are the solution.” That kind of government blitz on conscience should alarm all of us, no matter where we stand on the individual issues.
After the New York rally, Kaepernick tweeted, “My faith always has been and always will be in the power of the people!” He’s right. And when it comes to free speech, the government belongs on the sideline. We the people can handle it.