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Monday, April 6, 2015

On Rick Santorum's street, Westboro Baptist still gets the right of way.

Rick Santorum has, clearly, never heard of Steve Drain. The once and future presidential candidate (and the only one of either party with an eponymous sexual neologism) collared a batch of headlines this past weekend for arguing that Indiana's now-revised Prayer & Pizza Law was better in the original version:

Appearing on CBS, Santorum said the Indiana law was meant to protect the same kind of autonomy for businesses that a hypothetical gay owner of a print shop would wish for if he was hired to create a placard for the Westboro Baptist Church reading “God hates fags”.  

“It’s a matter of accommodation,” Santorum told CBS. “Tolerance is a two-way street. If you are a print shop, and you are a gay man, should you be forced to print ‘God Hates Fags’ for the Westboro Baptist Church – because they hold those signs up? Should the government force you to do that?    

“And that’s what these cases are all about … And that’s where we just need some space to say, let’s have tolerance be a two-way street.”

Such placards are ubiquitous at rallies staged by the Westboro Baptist Church, a notorious Topeka-based group that pickets funerals and other events.





On CBS, Santorum, who since his last run for president, has adopted the pose of a common- ostentatiously common, at times- man, siding with real Americans against the elites ("We will never have the elite, smart people on our side, because they believe they should have the power to tell you what to do"), played particularly dumb:

“This is acceptable language … it’s a good bill,” Santorum said. “I’m not a legal scholar, but I can tell you the way that the previous laws have been ruled [on], that they have not provided any type of legal protection for [discrimination].”

Santorum holds an undergraduate degree in politics, an MBA, and a law degree, and spent sixteen years in Congress, passing laws.

In a 2011 profile of Westboro's media director, Steve Drain, Justin Kendall wrote:
Drain and the other members of the Westboro Baptist Church believe that they are the only people living in accordance with God's standard. They've gained international infamy for waving "God hates" signs at the funerals of U.S. soldiers. They claim that God is punishing America for its acceptance of homosexuality, abortion and divorce. Drain has already designed an "Osama in hell" sign, featuring the terrorist leader's face and flames, which he'll hold high a few days from now at a soldier's funeral in Manning, Iowa — a state where Drain says the people are "batshit crazy."  
The sign is visible on a computer screen in Drain's home office, where he edits video and lays out picket graphics as part of his service to the church...Drain helped Phelps create the "God hates" signs that are now synonymous with the church.
Last year, writing at The Gradient, Emmet Byrne elaborated:
About three years ago, I was preparing a lecture on unexpected forms of self-publishing and stumbled upon an article about how the Westboro Baptist Church has its own graphic design/media/sign production studio embedded within its walls (Sister Corita Kent now appears before me as the spiritual antithesis of this operation). I contacted Steve Drain, the church’s media director, through the comment box of the group’s Sign Movies website... 
Emmet Byrne: When you were designing your signs, how did you choose the typeface, and was the graphic style (color, layout) referencing past historical models, such as old political campaign signs? Or did they just develop as you went along? How did you decide what typeface the word of God should be rendered in? 
Steve Drain: We use Boulder (ttf). It’s what our pastor just settled on years ago — and since it is very readable, yet not commonly used, I always thought it gave us a distinctive look. Every once in a while, if it is topically warranted, we vary from Boulder, but not often. 
EB: How do you understand the relationship between a church and its communication stream? Is your print shop, and by extension your sign campaign, a more fragmented/media-savvy alternative to an “evangelist”? Would you consider your sign campaign to represent a manifesto of sorts? 
SD: Wow. That’s a long and convoluted questions [sic]. Here’s what I think you’re looking for: Our job is to preach this word to every creature. So we hold brightly colored signs at events that lots of people go to. And sometimes these signs end up in photos on TV, in newspapers, and online. Our signs have timely, topical Bible sentiments on them. Our “manifesto” is the Bible — the word of God. 
EB: You write/design your signs to be concise so that they transmit easily through various media streams, but many of them are also slightly cryptic. For example, “Pray For More Dead Soldiers” probably confuses many people the first time they read it. It requires a level of decryption, almost like a puzzle, to understand the logic (of course, once you understand the message, the sign reveals itself to actually be incredibly straightforward). How did you come to this strategy of provoking people with outrageous but perplexing statements and forcing them to make an effort to understand you? 
SD: Our signs have short, pithy messages on them for two main reasons: 1.) so we can make the words big so that you can see them from far away, and 2.) because we live in the “sound bite” generation, so you have to get after it quickly. We aren’t about being “cryptic.” We are about being plain and clear (the pastors of this world are the ones who confuse). Every once in a while a sign needs a bit of “fleshing out,” and if someone is interested in asking us the sign’s meaning or our motive for holding it, we are always good to answer. Sometimes sparking a dialogue can be a good thing, as long as the end of it is obedience to God.  
EB: How do you come up with the messages for your signs? Is one person responsible for the messages, or do they get generated in a more organic way among the church? Is creating the signs a bonding/conversational moment for members of the church? 
SD: All members have ideas for signs. Some of our people design the signs, others assemble them, still others manage them, and all of us hold them.
Santorum's question- comparing the oppressed pizza makers and bread bakers of his natural constituency with an affronted gay print shop- resonates at a basic level: everyone wants to believe they are being fair. That accounts for the linguistic contortions that have attended the religious freedom law debates around the nation. Think Progress sums up the point:
Consistency is a factor to assessing this, which is why Silva won, but another Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, lost his case when he refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips never even gave the couple a chance to discuss the artistry of the cake; despite selling wedding cakes to different-sex couples, he refused to sell the same product to same-sex couples. Though he argued that his religious beliefs simply forbade him from “participating” in a same-sex wedding, Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer found that this was just a pretext for anti-gay discrimination. “Only same-sex couples engage in same-sex weddings,” he wrote. “Therefore, it makes little sense to argue that refusal to provide a cake to a same-sex couple for use at their wedding is not ‘because of’ their sexual orientation.”
Leaving aside for the moment the question of how likely one is to find a gay print shop owner in Topeka, Kansas, Santorum's two-way street has already been trod by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Last year, in a case much trumpeted by the Right, the Commission held a Colorado Springs baker violated the state's antidscrimination law by refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple who walked in one day. Waldo has considered the case at some length here. It is now pending before the Colorado Court of Appeals; Phillips says he has stopped backing wedding cakes for anybody.



And just recently, the Commission cleared a Denver baker who declined the custom of Worldview Academy's Bill Jack, whose Weltanschauung apparently, directs him to pretextual actions underscoring is animus toward gay people.
In the ruling released Friday, the Colorado Civil Rights Division rejected the argument that Azucar Bakery discriminated against the customer's religion when it refused the order in March 2014.
The state ruled that the cake shop had every right not to make the cakes on the grounds that the message on the cakes would be "derogatory."
The customer, Castle Rock resident Bill Jack, wanted a cake showing two groomsmen with a red "x" over them and messages about homosexuality being a sin.
Because the shop would have treated any other customer the same way, the state decided the shop didn't refuse service because of the customer's religion.
Jack is a founder of Worldview Academy, which is a "non-denominational organization dedicated to helping Christians think and live in accord with a Biblical worldview," according to the organization's website.
Jack's biography on the website says he is currently an educator who used to teach in public schools in the past, adding that he has appeared on numerous national radio and TV programs.
According to Azucar Bakery owner Marjorie Silva, Jack came into her shop in March of 2014, and asked her to make him a Bible-shaped cake. Silva said Jack also wanted her to inscribe what she described as an anti-gay message on one of the Bible pages.
“The customer wanted us to draw two males holding hands with a big ‘X’ on them,” Silva wrote in a letter to DORA, who had requested her side of the story after Jack filed the complaint. “We never refuse service. But we did feel it was not right for us to present hateful words or images about human beings.”
“I just want to make cake for happy people,” Silva said. “I’m Christian. I support Christians. We make a lot of Christian cakes. But this just wasn’t right.”
The customer came into Silva’s shop in March of 2014, just months after the conclusion of a very similar incident that took place inside a Lakewood bakery in December of 2013. 
In a decision that was eventually upheld by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a judge ruled that Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips broke discrimination laws when he refused to make a cake for Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig, a gay Colorado couple who had attempted to purchase the baked good for their Massachusetts wedding in July of 2012. 
Flash forward almost two years, and Silva found herself dealing with a man she described as “very pushy and disruptive,” asking her to bake a cake with an anti-gay message she won’t fully repeat to this day. 
Silva said she told the customer she would make the cake with a blank Bible page so that he could write whatever he wanted inside. She said she even offered to give the man an instrument to write the words himself. 
He declined, Silva said, and instead told the baker she “needed to talk to an attorney about this.”After making the statement, Silva said the man returned a short time later and asked her if she had spoken to an attorney. When she said no, he left again — only to return once more. At that time, Silva said she had called her brother into the shop to assist in asking the man to leave for good.
The agency's decision found that the baker did not discriminate against Jack based on his creed. Instead, officials state the evidence shows Silva refused to make the cakes because the customer's requests included "derogatory language and imagery." 

The baker said "in the same manner [she] would not accept [an order from] anyone wanting to make a discriminatory cake against Christians, [she] will not make one that discriminates against gays," according to the decision. 

"The evidence demonstrates that [Silva] would deny such requests to any customer, regardless of creed," the civil rights agency's decision stated. 

The decision noted that Silva is Catholic and her six employees include three Catholics and three who are "non-Catholic Christian." It also stated that Azucar Bakery's website states that it makes cakes "for every season of the year," including the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Photographs on the website include cakes decorated with Christian symbols and writing, including cakes with cross decorations and the words "God Bless." One cake was decorated with "Mi Bautizo," Spanish for "my baptism." 

Jack can appeal the agency's dismissal of his complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission or file a discrimination lawsuit in district court. 

The Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region, a civil rights organization that says it fights anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry, issued a statement on Friday supporting the ruling:

"The Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region welcomes the determination of the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD) that there is no probable cause to support a finding that Azucar Bakery treated unequally or denied goods or services to a customer based on the customer’s creed, when the bakery declined to include derogatory language and an image of a same-sex couple on a cake. ADL supports our state's anti-discrimination laws that promote an inclusive and respectful Colorado," said Scott L. Levin, the ADL's regional director.

This is not the first time the state of Colorado has waded into a bakery-related civil rights dispute. 

Last year, the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that another bakery, Masterpiece Cake Shop in Lakewood, could not refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, calling it discriminatory. 

Some anti-gay activists who say they want to expose hypocrisy are ordering "Gay Marriage Is Wrong" cakes from gay-friendly bakeries.

"I was sick and tired of Christian businesses being attacked by homosexual groups," said Theodore Shoebat, a self-described "militant Christian," told 7NEWS in January. He said he called 13 businesses last year ordering cakes.


Shoebat is not alone in deciding hooliganism- like Santorum's notion of tolerance- is a two-way street. A regrettable tendency among conservative activists is the inability to see losing a political battle as a legitimate outcome; they simply declare themselves the victims and sulk:
Over the weekend, pundit Michelle Malkin stoked the idea that Silva’s victory reflected a double standard against Christians, which several other pundits seemed to agree with, including Tammy Bruce, who previously chaired the gay conservative group GOProud. Other conservative groups have yet to respond to the outcome, but when Jack first filed his complaint, they positioned themselves in support of Silva, attempting to conflate the legitimacy of her “discrimination” with Phillips’ discrimination.
Or, the resort to very sort of activity they find so objectionable being on the receiving end of:

A Central Florida baker said she is getting death threats after refusing to make a cake with a message against gay marriage. The man who placed the order recorded it and then posted it online. 
Since then, Cut the Cake off U.S. Highway 17-92 in Longwood has been fielding calls from angry people across the country. The man who made the request is Joshua Feuerstein, a former pastor and social media personality.Feuerstein told Local 6 over Skype that the purpose of the video was to create discussion. 
"I need a sheet cake and I need it to say, 'We do not support gay marriage' [silence]," said Feuerstein in the video posted to his Facebook page earlier this week... 
"He wanted us to put a hateful message on a cake and I said, 'We're not going to do that,'" Sharon Haller, owner of Cut the Cake, told Local 6.Cut the Cake is a mom-and-pop shop now at the center of controversy over the phone call and video.
 “I need a sheet cake and I need it to say, 'We do not support gay marriage' [silence]," said Feuerstein in the video posted to his Facebook page earlier this week...
"He wanted us to put a hateful message on a cake and I said, 'We're not going to do that,'" Sharon Haller, owner of Cut the Cake, told Local 6.Cut the Cake is a mom-and-pop shop now at the center of controversy over the phone call and video. 
"For me, this is not about gay people; it's about religious freedom," Feuerstein said in the nearly 4-minute video. 
Feuerstein told Local 6 over Skype that this was a social experiment following Indiana's new and controversial religious freedom law. 
"I wanted to see if it was actually a double standard; if a gay-friendly bakery and one that advertised themselves as so on pro-LGBT wedding sites would actually bake a cake that went against their principles," said Feuerstein. 
Haller said the experiment came at her expense. 
"We started getting some hundreds of phone calls and making very nasty and negative gestures towards our business, towards us," said Haller. 
"I never asked people to call, be hateful or boycott them," said Feuerstein. 
The video depicting the request has gotten more than 1 million views on Facebook. Feuerstein said he took down the video after the bakery asked him to do so, but then the bakery shared it. 
"If anything, I think this is going to help their business," said Feuerstein. 
Haller told Local 6 she has been losing business as people are putting bad reviews online, so she is weighing her legal options not only over her losses but the recorded phone call, which is illegal in Florida.

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