- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2015

Muslim bakers and florists have flown under the media radar during the recent uproar over Christian-owned businesses and gay rights, but a hidden-camera video may have changed that.

The video showing Muslim bakers in Michigan reluctant to bake a cake for a gay wedding went viral last weekend, snaring more than 2.2 million views in three days and igniting debate over whether Christian business owners are being singled out for lawsuits, complaints and media focus.

That, of course, was the point of the video. Steven Crowder, conservative comedian and host of the podcast Louder with Crowder, said he believes that the Muslim bakers are well within their rights to refuse the cake-baking job — and so are Christian bakers.

“I’m not even saying these Muslim bakeries shouldn’t have a right to do whatever they did — they absolutely should — and many more of them would than Christian bakeries,” said Mr. Crowder in comments on the video.

This month’s fierce national debate over religious-freedom bills, particularly in Arkansas and Indiana, has increased the attention on Christian-owned businesses, which suddenly find themselves the subject of intense and potentially ruinous media focus.

“There is a witch-hunt now for Christian business owners,” said conservative radio talk-show host Dana Loesch on her Thursday program.

Along with cheers from the right, the video has drawn a backlash from the left, where columnist Wes Williams of IfYouOnlyNews.com charged Mr. Crowder with being “homophobic, AND racist,” calling the expose “an attempt to smear Muslims.”

In another post, John Paul Brammer of Blue Nation Review said the video only succeeds in underlining the point that anti-gay discrimination is widespread.

“Anyway, point taken, Crowder. There are bigots in every religion and we gay people should just consider ourselves lucky that we’re not being lynched for being gay. Even though plenty of gay people have been lynched in this country, it’s swell that it’s not happening everyday anymore,” said Mr. Brammer.

While it may be tough to find a Muslim-owned bakery or florist in most U.S. cities, that’s not the case in Michigan, home to a large Muslim community in Dearborn.

In the video, Mr. Crowder asks for a wedding cake with the message, “Ben and Steven forever.” Some employees refer him elsewhere. One baker shakes his head and says, “No, no, I don’t want it,” apparently referring to the cake-baking job.

“Many of the Muslim bakeries were kind enough and willing to serve us, but many of them were not,” Mr. Crowder said.

Mr. Williams argued that there has been no media coverage of Muslim bakeries because there have been no complaints filed against them, a point reinforced by Sommer Foster, political advocacy director of Equality Michigan, who said Friday she was unaware of any complaints.

“[T]he media, that he complains about, has been talking about a Christian bakery refusing to bake a cake for a same sex wedding, because that was the subject of several court cases,” said Mr. Williams. “If a Muslim bakery somewhere has refused to bake a cake for a gay couple, that couple apparently didn’t take the issue to court.”

The Christian baker at the center of the court battle is Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. He was ordered in May by the state Civil Rights Commission ordering him to provide services for same-sex weddings, train his staff on anti-discrimination laws, and file quarterly compliance reports for two years.

But there were no complaints filed against Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana, or florists in Jeff Davis County, Georgia. Still, both managed to garner unflattering media attention last week after reporters arrived to ask their Christian owners’ opinions on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The O’Connors, who own Memories Pizza wound up closing their doors after angry criticism on social media in reaction to their statement that they would not cater a same-sex wedding ceremony — not that anyone had ever asked.

Meanwhile, CNN’s Gary Tuchman stopped by five Christian-owned florists to elicit their reaction to a RFRA bill in the Georgia legislature. Several workers, who were identified by name although their shops were not, said they would not serve a gay wedding for religious reasons.

In the two days since the report aired, the florists have come under heated criticism online. The Democratic Underground ran the headline, “CNN story about Georgia flower shops that want to go out of business,” while RawStory cited the florists’ “religious hypocrisy.”

“These flower shops are happy to do business with you, but not so much if you tell them you’re gay,” says Mr. Tuchman at the end of the segment.

That wasn’t the case with Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington state florist who was sued in 2013 after refusing to provide floral arrangements for a gay wedding.

She had hired gay employees in the past and knew well the gay client who sued her — he had been coming to her shop for nine years, and she considered him a friend — but she had never failed to provide him with flowers until he asked her to serve his wedding.

Ms. Stutzman has appealed a court ruling against her after rejecting in February a settlement offer from the Washington Attorney General, who also filed a lawsuit against her. Ms. Foster said Equality Michigan would investigate a discrimination complaint “no matter where the complaint comes from,” referring to Muslim-owned bakeries, but that, “We don’t go looking for instances of discrimination.”

Victor Begg, a founder and senior adviser to the Michigan Muslim Community Council, said U.S. Muslims are in general opposed to discrimination because they are often the targets of bias themselves. He added that opposition to gay marriage is rooted more in tradition than in religious doctrine.

“In Islam, it’s not sanctioned, that kind of marriage union,” Mr. Begg said, referring to same-sex marriage. “However, there is no real punishment prescribed.”

He added that there are differences of opinion on same-sex marriage within the American Muslim community, just as there are within other religious groups.

“You know, the Muslim community is no different than any other religious community. If you go to the Catholics, you’re going to find different opinions,” Mr. Begg said. “It’s a controversial topic.”Mr. Crowder has not said whether he will take any action against the Muslim bakeries, although that seems unlikely, given his support for their right to refuse service. It’s also possible that others may track down the bakeries.

But Ms. Loesch isn’t counting on it. “Waiting for the militant progressive supporters of gay wedding cake to start threatening and protesting these Muslim ran bakeries,” she said in a Facebook post. “I think we will be waiting a long time.”

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