Jacob Lupfer: Indiana Tax Preparer’s Case Shows the Limits and Liberties of a Post-Masterpiece Cakeshop World

Four years after Indiana adopted its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, prompting boycotts, bad press and an eventual amendment to avoid approving anti-LGBT discrimination, the state briefly returned last month to the debate when a tax preparer in rural Russiaville, Nancy Fivecoate, declined on religious grounds to prepare a return for a same-sex married couple.

Samantha Brazzel, whose wife, Bailey’s, returns had been prepared by Fivecoate before the couple was married, told The Washington Post that the couple left Carter Tax Service feeling “shocked, upset, and kind of hurt.” They shared their ordeal in a local Facebook group before it was picked up by local media.

Fivecoate told an NBC affiliate, “I am a Christian and I believe marriage is between one man and one woman.” She added, “I was very respectful to them. I told them where I thought she might be able to get her taxes prepared.”

But the story made barely a ripple in the national culture war for one happy reason: No serious religious freedom advocate stepped forward to defend Fivecoate. Conservative legal-defense groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom and the Becket Fund, which often rush to represent people with religious liberty claims, have said nothing about this story.

Is it too much to hope that the kerfuffle is a sign of a promising consensus against giving credence to baseless, purely discriminatory claims?

To answer that, we need first to agree that Fivecoate’s misguided insistence that her religious beliefs relieved her from having to assist Samantha and Bailey Brazzel almost certainly stems from the righteous ballyhoo on both sides after then Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the RFRA in 2018. The tax preparer likely felt further justified by Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court case decided last summer giving Lakewood, Colo., baker Jack Phillips the right to refuse to make a wedding cake for two men.

Baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, manages his shop on June 4, 2018, in Lakewood, Colo. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he could refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because his religious beliefs did not violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Progressive opponents said then that carve-outs for wedding vendors and other kinds of businesses amount to a license to discriminate. That’s not as likely as what has happened in Indiana: that some conservative Christians, like Fivecoate, may now be primed to deny business services by default.

That’s not only a shame, it undermines the argument of people with potentially more legitimate claims — caterers, bakers, printers and other creatives whose artistic expression would be put in direct service of a ritual they don’t support.

A contributing editor at Religion News Service, Jacob Lupfer is a writer and consultant in Baltimore. His website is www.jacoblupfer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

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Source: Religion News Service