The Mero Moment: Cakes, flags and our American identity – August 20, 2015

We know of the cake maker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. There is a similar case where a cake maker refused to make a cake with an anti-gay message. And we have a recent case where a cake maker refused to make a cake with a Confederate flag on it.

The Mero Moment: Cakes, flags and our American identity – August 20, 2015
by Paul Mero

Americans generally agree that laws ought not exist regarding the free exchange of goods, like cakes. While we’re increasingly fuzzy about the freedom of association, generally Americans agree that, when buying a cake, we have the liberty to make that economic exchange, regardless of what that cake looks like or tastes like.

From that point forward Americans are struggling with their identity. According to libertarians, laws exist to maintain a level playing field, no matter what game is being played. They always qualify that idea by saying, of course, as long as nobody hurts another person who hasn’t agreed to play the game. Libertarians are absolute in their political theory. Drugs are like oranges to be bought and sold. Human flesh can be exchanged for money like a cake, as long as the exchange is consensual. Libertarianism is all about choice and free exchange between consenting adults.

Conservatism is not absolutist. We leave a little room for a discussion about the common good. Maybe there really are some bad behaviors or symbols of bad behavior that should be frowned upon or even regulated. Certainly a free society must err on the side of individual liberty and free exchange. But to say both are absolute would be a mistake. It’s always a mistake to confuse means and ends.

Whether we like it or not, we do condone what we permit. When we condone the sale of a cake inscribed with a Confederate flag, we condone its relationship to us and to society. It does no good for us to argue that we wouldn’t make or buy the cake ourselves. If we allow it to be sold, we’re saying that nothing about that cake rises to a level of concern about how people live in a free society. It says that Confederate flag-waving cakes fit within the confines of the common good – and we’re saying the same thing every time a cake is sold celebrating a same-sex wedding.

Now, do we really want to be saying that? Maybe. Maybe not. But to say that it is of little consequence is silly when it has everything to do with our freedoms and our American identity.

Our American identity is being covered and suffocated by a blanket of political correctness. Argue for the sale of any cake you want but don’t tell me that its symbolism doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. It all matters.

I’m arguing for what’s good and the common good. I’m arguing that every American has the duty to explain right from wrong and good from bad. And, by the way, equality alone or the excuse of a “level playing field” doesn’t answer those questions. A free society requires substantive judgments about right and wrong, good and bad, because a free society requires virtue. Limited government requires good behavior. Our founding fathers didn’t sacrifice their lives for bad behavior. They knew freedom required Americans to be their better selves. So, if same-sex relationships are inherently virtuous, so are all of its symbols on a wedding cake. If the Confederate flag has virtuous meaning, nobody should object to a cake bearing its symbol. But if they lack virtue, why support them? Indeed, if they lack virtue, why condone them at all? We might have very good reasons, in the name of freedom, to endure bad behavior but that doesn’t mean we should condone it.

Americans are wrong to choose the values of the Sexual Revolution. And, while I might not be sensitive about Confederate flags, many people are and many communities are right to ban them. Wedding cakes seem innocuous to me but a person’s deeply held religious beliefs are anything but innocuous, especially when confronted with the undignified parading of the Sexual Revolution.

Parts of the freedom movement today are right to embrace choice but are wrong to ignore the consequences of choice. They’re wrong in their indifference and smugness toward the importance of culture, in relationship to freedom and, whether they like it or not, or see it or not, how laws reflect culture. And they’re wrong to dismiss the importance of how wedding cakes or the Confederate flag or any other symbols of modern culture work to define human dignity. All of it matters. All of it requires people to stand up, discern good from bad and choose the good.


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