Shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, two African-Americans, Anne P. Newman and a friend, were refused service at Piggie Park, a drive-in BBQ chain of four spots in Columbia, South Carolina, created and operated by Maurice Bessinger, the Baptist head of the National Association for the Preservation of White People. Newman joined in a class-action lawsuit, Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises that made its way through the court system to wind up at the United States Supreme Court.
Bessinger argued, among other things, that the Civil Rights Act violated his constitutional right to religious freedom. Bessinger claimed that his deeply held religious beliefs held that there can be no “integration of the races whatsoever”.
The plaintiffs had a victory that helped advance Civil Rights, including the establishment of the concept that Religious Views do not trump Civil Rights.
In 2000, when the South Carolina legislature voted to move the Confederate flag from atop the statehouse, Bessinger responded by flying a Confederate flag over each of his four Piggie Parks. That led to an NAACP boycott of his Carolina Gold BBQ Sauce at Walmart and other stores. Bessinger claimed the boycott cost his business $20 million.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Bessinger put signs in his store windows saying ”No Coloreds Allowed”, plus he sold pro-slavery audiotapes in the flagship Piggie Park.
This week’s Supreme Court argument, Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where Jack Phillips the Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, reminds some of us of South Carolina’s Piggie Park BBQ.
In 1966, U.S. District Judge Charles Earl Simons Jr. wrote:
“Undoubtedly defendant Bessinger has a constitutional right to espouse the religious beliefs of his own choosing, however, he does not have the absolute right to exercise and practice such beliefs in utter disregard of the clear constitutional rights of other citizens…”
By the time SCOTUS heard the case in 1968, the issue was the award of fees to the lawyers representing the black South Carolinians who sued and won over Bessinger’s Piggie Parks. But in a footnote to its 8-0 opinion, the court called the religious freedom argument “patently frivolous”.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said in a Supreme Court brief:
“The logic of Piggie Park and other precedents overwhelmingly rejecting religious justifications for racial discrimination apply squarely to the context of LGBTQ discrimination.”
Both cases involve laws intended to prevent discrimination by private businesses that open their doors to the public. In the case of Piggie Park, the law was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bakery case involves the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits businesses from refusing to sell their goods and services to people on the basis of religion, sex, race, national origin, handicap or sexual orientation.
As the case has come to SCOTUS, the focus is on Phillips’ free speech rights, not his religious beliefs. As an ”artist”, he claims a right to not say something with which he disagrees. Phillips’ lawyers also say the baker’s issue is not with LGBTQ people, but with Marriage Equality. The Alliance Defending Freedom, representing Phillips, claims he will sell pre-made goods to anyone who walks in the store. He also would make a cake celebrating “a marriage between a man and a woman even if one or both spouses identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual”. What a zany cake that would be!
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was founded in 1994 by the Christian Right. They provide training for groups and individuals that support the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad. They have defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans-people, linked homosexuality to pedophilia, and claim that the “homosexual agenda” will destroy society. ADF works to develop Religious Liberty legislation that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion. The group is very dangerous, having managed to win special advisory status at the United Nations, in the European Union, and with the Organization of American States.
Laws that regulate speech, as Phillips and his lawyers assert the Colorado anti-discrimination law does, must withstand the toughest level of scrutiny that courts can apply. They rely on a 1995 unanimous SCOTUS decision allowing organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston to exclude LGBTQ groups from the parade. Speech restrictions rarely survive at the Supreme Court.
The Trump administration has filed a brief for the case on Phillips’ side. They claim that speech restrictions aimed at race are different than those aimed at LGBTQ people.
The Administration (not POTUS himself, because there are too many big words for him) claims that a ruling in favor of the baker would not call into question the use of public accommodations laws that prohibit racial discrimination:
“As the court recently observed, ‘racial bias’ is ‘a familiar and recurring evil’ that poses ‘unique historical, constitutional and institutional concerns.'”
Meanwhile, back at Piggie Park, when Bissninger died in 2013, his kids removed all Confederate paraphernalia from their drive-ins and took down the Confederate flags. His son, Lloyd Bissinger said: “Dad liked politics. That’s not something we’re interested in doing. We want to serve great barbecue.”
Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission will be decided in summer 2018, the ruling will have a significant effect on LGBTQ Rights for decades to come.
In a crazy coincidence Piggie Park was the name of a notorious 1970s-era private sex club in Oakland, no relationship to the BBQ joint.