A sour decision over ‘Sweet Cakes’

When author Nat Hentoff wrote a book about censorship in the 1990s, he called it “Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee.”

The point, of course, was to underscore how easy it is for people on both sides of the political aisle to lapse into doing the very thing they criticize. They want the benefit of certain freedoms even as they deny them to others.

Take the case of GoFundMe. The fundraising site recently found itself at the center of the latest battle over same-sex marriage.

We’ve all heard the stories of Christian florists who have been accused of violating anti-discrimination laws for refusing to provide arrangements for same-sex weddings. And the same thing has been happening with Christian bakeries.

One of the latest examples is “Sweet Cakes by Melissa,” a bakery in Oregon that was targeted for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding. For daring to act in accordance with their religious beliefs, the state recommended they be fined $135,000.

Such a hefty fine could easily wipe out a small business such as Sweet Cakes. Fortunately for owners Aaron and Melissa Klein, supporters heard about their plight (thanks in large measure to intrepid reporting by the Daily Signal’s Kelsey Harkness) and began a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.com.

It didn’t take long for Americans who actually support freedom of conscience to contribute $109,000 to the Sweet Cakes campaign. Why that amount? Because that’s as high as it went before GoFundMe decided to pull the plug.

Why? We all know the real reason — it’s not politically correct to say a word against same-sex marriage, no matter what the First Amendment says. But GoFundMe needed an official excuse, so it pointed to its bylaws, which prohibit “campaigns in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful, or sexual acts.”

At least that’s what it used to say. After coming in for some well-deserved criticism, GoFundMe amended its bylaws to say “campaigns in defense of formal charges or claims of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful, or sexual acts.”

You may say it’s kind of sneaky to do that — change the rules after the fact to suit your biases. And you’d be making a good point — but hey, this is America. The owners of GoFundMe are free to do business, or not do business, with whomever they want. And they don’t even need to have what anyone else would consider a good reason to do so.

But you know what? Sweet Cakes has that right, too. So does Arlene’s Flowers, another business GoFundMe decided to blackball for the same reason — the owners wouldn’t provide flowers for a same-sex wedding because doing so would violate their religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Talk about cultural myopia. GoFundMe wants to enjoy the same liberty it’s happy to see denied to businesses that it disagrees with.

“GoFundMe has the freedom to make their own policies and do business with whom they choose,” Greg Scott, a spokesman for Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Daily Signal. “That’s what makes it so ironic and hypocritical that GoFundMe has done the bidding of a movement that wages war against this same freedom.”

Even worse, GoFundMe announced the change in a blog post titled “Protecting Our Community.” From what? From having the oh-so-frightening experience of hearing an opposing point of view? From having the right to conduct their business the way they see fit?

If so, mission accomplished. Because it’s happened again, just as it has so many times throughout our history: First Amendment rights for me, but not for thee. Will we ever learn?

 - Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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Originally appeared in The Washington Times