Regarding “A conversation about ‘religious liberty’ laws and freedom”: Thank you for diving deep into the confusing and nuanced layers of these issues.
While I agree with your opinions for the most part, may I suggest yet another option for the Christian baker? Bake the cake for the same-sex customers, but draw the line at decorating it in a way that violates the baker’s faith. This would mean the customer might have to go elsewhere for the same-sex cake topper or have another vendor personalize the message in the icing. All customers should be treated the same in a public place of business, but no business can be required to stock every item a customer might want.
I think the line between these conflicting rights appears at the point of participation. Yes, the florist, baker, photographer, etc. should provide the goods purchased—and deliver them if that is their practice. But to force anyone to attend a religious service, which is what a wedding is, crosses the line if that violates their religious beliefs.
Many of these occupations are artistic in nature, and to coerce an artist to make art that violates the artist’s conscience seems to me to violate their freedom of expression.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).
Requiring a baker to produce cake decorations depicting homosexual unions is quite different from selling goods. That not only puts the government in position of defining religion—establishing religion—it also forces speech in the form of artistic expression.
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It is one thing to say the baker has to sell to whomever comes in the door, although it certainly infringes the free exercise of religion. It is another thing to say the baker has to design and produce a morally objectionable work of art. Shall actors be required to perform in nude scenes? Shall artists who paint commissioned pieces be required to paint immorality? The First Amendment means that the government must not define what my religion demands without a compelling reason.
It is precisely the mainstreaming of presentations of homosexuality in positive light that has led to the reversal of moral judgment on the issue in the last 10 years. Forcing people to cooperate in that kind of presentation leads to exactly the kind of immorality they would wish to oppose.
Concerning your assurances that ministers and churches will not be required to perform services that they find objectionable, a few years ago most people would have judged “homosexual marriage” a blatant oxymoron and impossible. When popular culture and the Supreme Court play fast and loose with language itself, very little is impossible.