Regulatory agencies running roughshod over protected rights

By: Mark Harris - Guest columnist

In early 2012, I was traveling around the state meeting with pastors as part of Vote for Marriage NC. On May 8, 2012 North Carolinians voted to protect traditional marriage with a 61 percent vote.

In Colorado in 2012, pastors weren’t organizing, because that state had already voted on its “marriage amendment,” which passed by 56 percent on Nov. 7, 2006.

In Lakewood, Colorado in July of 2012, a homosexual couple, married in Massachusetts since same sex marriage was illegal in Colorado, walked into Masterpiece Cakeshop with a binder of ideas, and asked owner/designer Jack Phillips to create a custom wedding cake for a reception they were holding. He declined, citing his religious beliefs. Phillips had long been comfortable with losing income over his beliefs, as he closed on Sunday, refused to sell alcohol, and never made Halloween cakes.

Phillips did not decline service to the gay couple. He declined one aspect of service: the creation of a custom wedding cake. He offered to sell them any other items in his bakery. Now Phillips has a front row seat, with his life’s work hanging in the balance, for what promises to be a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Because cakes seem innocuous, the mass of men concludes, “just bake the cupcake,” as presidential candidate John Kasich exasperatedly admonished. Politically, we tend to wear blinders, focusing only on issues that we perceive to affect our comfort and our rights. But there is an aspect to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case that should get our attention if we value the Bill of Rights and our constitutional republic.

Phillips was never arrested and given due process for a crime. Instead, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which is part of Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies, a body appointed by the governor, who is elected in a partisan race, ruled against him. In its ruling, the Commission issued the Soviet-sounding requirement that Phillips “re-educate” his staff and submit compliance reports for every request he declined in his business for two years.

What do you re-educate other than thought? How do you re-educate but with written or spoken words? How can this requirement be justified in light of consistent legal precedent that a private citizen cannot be compelled to speak the views of the state when they are contrary to his own convictions? Yet a bureaucratic agency felt it had the power to compel a U.S. citizen to speak words to his staff in direct conflict with his religious beliefs.

So what if next time it’s not a cake? What if it’s your gun? What if it’s your property? Congress continues to blindly expand the power of the federal government’s regulatory bodies in the name of good works, heedless of the potential unintended consequences, while regulatory agencies continue to tread on the rights of citizens at all levels of government. A recent and particularly egregious example: the Honolulu, Hawaii police department recently ordered legal medical marijuana users to turn over their legally permitted guns within 30 days or risk confiscation of them, based on guidance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms given in 2011.

Conservatives often rail against government intervention in the economy with the statement that government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers. Neither should it be in the business of picking and choosing which of our God-given rights, guaranteed by our Constitution, are protected, and for whom.

Mark Harris is a former Charlotte pastor and candidate for Congress.

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Mark Harris

Guest columnist