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OUR VIEW Byrd anniversary keeps cake ruling in perspective

June 5, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court made the correct ruling on the infamous Colorado baker case. But in these tense times, that ruling should not be interpreted as some kind of license to hate anyone. The 20th anniversary of the James Byrd dragging murder should remind all Southeast Texans of that difference.

The ruling on the cakemaker was focused on the relatively narrow legal grounds that he couldn’t be compelled to add a creative message to a cake ordered by a same-sex couple.

It’s one thing to ask a baker, or anyone, to simply sell something to a same-sex couple or someone they don’t approve of. No retailer should be allowed to refuse that kind of basic transaction in a country where all residents are rightly protected from discrimination. That’s why Civil Rights laws were passed in the 1960s, so blacks could eat at restaurants or stay at hotels like other Americans.

Yet asking, or requiring, a baker to personally add a message in the icing of the cake supportive of same-sex marriage is taking that concept one step further. It infringes on the rights of the baker and compels him to use his talents in a way he doesn’t want to.

The same principle would apply to a hate group that asked a minority baker to add a hateful message on a cake they were buying. That baker should be allowed to say, “You can buy the cake as is, but I’m not putting those words on it.”

If that’s the lesson we all take away from this case, our country will be better. Yet if someone thinks this ruling allows them to vent their hatred against some person or group they don’t like, we will have taken a step backward.

Even though this country has made tremendous progress on accepting the different kinds of people within its borders, the battle isn’t over. Various kinds of bigotry remain, and Southeast Texans saw a terrible example of that 20 years ago this week just outside Jasper. Three white men decided to murder a another man in one of the worst ways simply because of his race.

The crime rightly shocked the people of Jasper and all area residents. It didn’t seem like something that could happen here. Yet it did, and if that extreme kind of hatred still existed here, we could be sure that lesser forms did too.

One positive thing that happened after Byrd’s murder was a widespread rejection of the bigotry that caused it. It happened in symbolic ways, like tearing down a fence that separated black and white sections of a cemetery in Jasper. It also happened in more significant ways, like the election of black candidates in contests across the region where that once would have been unthinkable.

That spirit needs to continue in Southeast Texas, and the rest of the nation. Unfortunately, we’re caught in a trend of political leaders who promote division over unity, or TV stars who send out hateful tweets.

You may not be thrilled about the person in the next office or the house next door. You don’t have to “like” them. But to a certain extent, you have to display some tolerance toward them, and accept that they are people just like you.

In this case, two Supreme Court justices did that. They usually vote with the “liberal” side, but this time they voted for the outcome that “conservatives” wanted. They put their personal feelings aside and did what was right for the larger community. That’s not a bad example for the rest of us to follow when selling cakes, or doing many other things.

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