Federalist Society Takes the Cake

Crowded lecture room

Jodran Lorence speaks on religious liberty in the USA.

By: Sarah Telle, 2L
Section Editor


“You can support Jack Phillips and the Obergefell decision. This is not a case about gay marriage. It is one about the government compelling an individual’s speech.”

These were the opening lines of the biggest Federalist Society event in recent memory at Washington and Lee. Room B was packed with students from all sides of the political chasm to hear Jordan Lorence, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, speak about Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

This case promises to be one of the most contentious going up before SCOTUS this term. It centers on Jack Phillips, a baker and cake artist in Colorado, and his refusal to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Mr. Phillips explained that he would make them any other type of baked good, but that he could not bake the cake due to his faith. The couple filed a discrimination claim with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Commission and every court that has heard the case ruled in favor of the couple and against Mr. Phillips.

Contrary to the rhetoric surrounding this case, Mr. Lorence stressed that this was not a same-sex discrimination case. The Court granted cert. to decide whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create an expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. It is a first amendment issue, not a discrimination one.

Much of the tension in this case comes down to whether cake can speak. Mr. Lorence posited cake does speak, especially wedding cakes. He explained, “Cake serves a central function at a wedding celebration. It is a gathering point. It is an iconic moment of celebration that communicates that these two people are now one.” Mr. Phillips’s cakes are his artistic expression. They are one of the ways he communicates with the world. He has been known to turn down divorce cakes, Halloween cakes, and other cakes that are contrary to his sincerely held religious beliefs.

Mr. Lorence managed to persuade some of the audience into at least considering his point. Siobhan Canty, 1L, stated, “Before his talk, I would have never thought of a cake as such a significant form of expression. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules and the lasting effects their decision will have on our society.”  Others remained skeptical. One student posited, “I’m just not sure whether cake is more conduct or speech. Even it is speech, I don’t think that the baker owns the message.”

The Federalist Society Board was pleased with the turnout and the event as a whole. Alan Carrillo, 3L and President of the FedSoc Board, noted, “Jordan Lorence and his presentation personified the principles our organization strives to promote. He obviously presented our position on a complicated legal issue, but his ability to represent opposing viewpoints well and give them the benefit of the doubt while respectfully engaging all students and professors that attended proves the need for and value of free, open expression and dialogue. I can’t think of a better way for our year’s events to begin.” Andrew Logan, 3L and Communications Director, declared, “This was the best-attended Federalist Society event that I can remember in my 3 years at W&L, and the viewpoints ranged across the political spectrum. It’s a testament to the maturity of our student body that attendees were so respectful, even when their views differed with the speaker’s or with each other’s.”

This was the first event in FedSoc’s year-long series, Fortify Your Rights, which works through the Bill of Rights. The next event focuses on the Second Amendment and the right of individuals to bear arms. It is aptly named, What the Heller? Ilya Shapiro of the CATO Institute will be speaking. Kenny’s Chicken and Christmas cookies will be served.

In closing, no matter the eventual outcome of the Masterpiece Cake decision, it’s safe to say that no matter which way the Court decides to slice the opinion, it will be highly contentious. Thankfully, cookies are still something we can all unite behind.



Categories: Community