By Ben Crystal
Meet Mohammed. The fifth generation of his family to call the United States home, Mohammed lives the kind of life familiar to most Americans. He raises his kids, pays his taxes and looks forward to the next barbecue with his friends. Like millions of Americans, Mohammed owns a small business. “Mohammed’s House of Halal” isn’t 5-star Michelin-rated, it doesn’t even rate a spot on the “food next exit” sign on the interstate. But Mohammed’s food is good, and he enjoys a loyal customer base, built over years of providing delicious falafels and other halal-compliant dishes. One day, a couple planning their wedding visit Mohammed’s. They love his cooking, and they want to share it with their friends and family on their day of bliss. They want to hire Mohammed to cater the event. One little wrinkle: They want bacon cheeseburgers on the menu.
Mohammed is glad to have their business, and he would love to augment their joyous occasion with the very best he can dish up. But he can’t serve bacon cheeseburgers; he can’t even cook them. He prides himself on his adherence to halal, and he has managed to work within the religious strictures to develop same damn fine grub. He would be happy to whip up lamb kabobs that make their guests hit their knees and aim some prayers towards Mecca in appreciation. The curried goat would be tastier than spring water after a week in the desert. The hummus would straighten a camel’s hump. Allahu Akbar, the groceries on the table would be fit for the Sheik of Araby himself!
But the couple are bent on the bacon. And our man Mo’s gotta keep it straight with the big Mo upstairs. They can’t break the impasse, so the couple leaves, disappointed. And Mohammed laments the loss of the extra cash. They go find another caterer, and Mohammed hopes Ramadan brings in some extra diners.
That ought to be the end of the story. The clients wanted an item. The vendor couldn’t provide it, but they offered to deliver an alternative item which he believed would be suitable. The clients declined and found another vendor… or learned to produce item themselves. That’s the way it’s supposed to work in my — and Mohammed’s — America and pretty much everywhere else the communists haven’t turned into Venezuela.
Sadly, this ain’t Mo’s ‘Merica anymore. Even as you read Mohammed’s sad saga, a real-life version sits in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Jack Phillips, the man behind the ovens at Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop, is fighting to keep the doughnuts a-rolling. Back in 2012, Phillips turned down a gay couple’s request to bake a special cake for their upcoming nuptials. Phillips, in keeping with his religious beliefs, declined. They didn’t even wait for a counteroffer. Infuriated by what they identified as Phillips’ religiously-inspired homophobia, they called the authorities. Now, the highest court in the land will determine whether a client’s desire for delicious baked goods outweighs a vendor’s right to worship God. And if that isn’t the most 2017 sentence ever written, I don’t know what could be.
Phillips didn’t interfere with the couple’s upcoming wedding, not that he could have even if he had wanted. He didn’t even refuse to serve them many of the other tasty treats in his shop. The nature of their nuptials was immaterial to him, as was their gender. There was never a moment that their right to be married to each other, someone else or the family cat, was in any danger. He simply had one request he could not fulfill, lest he forfeit his own soul. But, as he is learning the hard way, their offense rivals his liberty. And if the Supreme Court rules their offense outweighs his liberty, then he’s faced with either losing his livelihood or his standing in the eyes of his Lord. Should that happen, he won’t be the last man forced into God’s little acre. Within days of Phillips losing his case, our buddy Mohammed will have to fire up the grill and start slapping bacon and cheese on those burgers, or else.
Copyright 2017 Southern Arizona News-Examiner