I find the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court to be injurious to my mental health and I have decided that the only thing I can do is to explain at length my reactions to them. What I say will obviously have no effect on the world but maybe I will feel better when I am finished.
Let me begin with the simpler of the two decisions, that concerning the website designer. Forget about the fact that she has not yet actually designed any websites – that is irrelevant.
Consider the following series of cases, designed to approach the issue slowly. Suppose that a devout Catholic decides to open a bookstore called The St. Thomas Aquinas Bookstore in which he proposes to stock and sell only books by Catholic authors on Catholic topics. Can anyone attempt to take him to court on the grounds that he does not carry books on fishing or baseball or books on Islam? Of course not. He has a perfect right to open a bookstore that sells books only by Catholic authors on Catholic topics. Does he have a right to refuse to sell a book to a customer who is not Catholic? Of course not. If it offends him to sell books to people who are not Catholic, then he does not have to open a bookstore, but if he does, then he is required by well-established laws to sell books to any customers who wish to buy them, regardless of whether those customers believe that the religious doctrine set forth in those books are true. By the same token, he can if he wishes open a shop that only sells Yankees memorabilia (like the “bookstore” in downtown Chapel Hill that only sells Tar Heels memorabilia.) But he does not have the right to refuse to sell his wares to a Red Sox fan.
Suppose a painter decides to open a business that offers to paint portraits of customers in Orthodox Jewish garb. When a customer enters the shop and asks to have his portrait painted, the salesman shows him a variety of possible Orthodox Jewish outfits and asks which of them he wishes the portrait artist to use in painting his portrait. Does the customer have the right to demand that his portrait be painted in the garb of a Catholic saint? Obviously not. That is not what the owner of the shop is offering. Does the painter have a right to refuse to paint a portrait of a customer who is not Jewish? Clearly not. He has a right to insist that any portrait he paint portray the subject of the portrait in Orthodox Jewish garb because that is the nature of the business he has decided to run. But if a customer is content to have his portrait painted in Orthodox Jewish garb even though he is not himself Jewish, then so long as the painter is offering his services to the public, he does not have a right to choose which customers he will accept. If the painter holds that it is inconsistent with his religious faith to paint the non-Jew in Orthodox Jewish garb, then the he should not open a shop that offers to paint customers in that garb. No one can compel him to paint portraits of non-Jews in Orthodox religious outfits – indeed, no one can compel him to paint portraits at all. But if he starts a business that is open to the public, then he has no right refuse to serve certain customers on the grounds that doing so violates his religious freedom.
Suppose a web designer decides to open a business offering to design websites for people who are getting married. Can she specify that she will only design websites that are appropriate for the weddings of a man and a woman? Certainly. If a gay couple asked her to design a website for them, adjusting the design so that it is appropriate for the wedding of a man and a man, does she have a right to refuse? Of course, she has as much right to refuse to do that as the bookshop owner of the St. Thomas Aquinas Bookshop has to refuse to carry books that are not about Catholicism by Catholics. But suppose that the gay couple agree to have the web designer design for their wedding a website appropriate for the wedding of a man and a woman. Never mind why they want that, suppose they agree. Does the web designer have the right to refuse on the grounds that it violates religious freedom? No. She has a right not to open a business but if she chooses to open a business and offer a certain service, she has an obligation to offer to any customer who is willing to pay her price.