Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Sizzling issues — religious freedom, sports betting, athletes and the anthem

It’s hot — meteorologically and politically. Several simmering issues may hit the boiling point, especially decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Court of Public Opinion.

The now-famous baker, Jack Phillips, argued that his First Amendment rights of free speech and religious expression allowed him to decline to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Human rights advocates argued harm to the LGBT community and other minorities if Phillips prevailed. The Supreme Court artfully dodged a final constitutional determination on the matter by issuing a narrow ruling supporting Phillips because he was unfairly treated by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Can this controversy be resolved?

Pignanelli: "The civil rights movement was based on faith.” — John Lewis

This case evolved into a classic melodrama with Phillips as the hapless victim engendering sympathy because of persecution by the villainous commission, which mocked his religious beliefs during the initial hearing. The court was compelled to play the hero and prevent further government-sponsored criticism of First Amendment rights.

Many Americans express concern with the heavy hand of government forcing the baker to provide products for use in same-sex marriages, which his faith opposes. But ask those same Americans if the baker can refuse service because the customer is African-American, Jewish or Mormon, and the sentiment immediately disappears as such conduct is outrageous discrimination.

Thus, the dilemma.

Americans have a fundamental constitutional right to express their religious beliefs in an open manner. But merchants in the public arena are prohibited — by equally important principles — from using faith to deny goods and services to customers solely for their race, creed, religion or sexual orientation. The Supreme Court will eventually structure a coexistence of both absolutes, because to rule otherwise will encourage supremacists to use a religious ploy in commerce to denigrate and harm minorities and not suffer legal ramifications — a frightening scenario.

No need for the boos and hisses of a melodrama. Americans can respect each other's religious beliefs while allowing all to participate in the public marketplace without fear of discrimination.

Webb: The court showed that reason, compromise and goodwill can sooth conflicts between freedom of religion and unfair discrimination. But both sides must be willing to concede a little and acknowledge some merit in the other side’s viewpoint. The problem is militants on both sides would prefer to fight and call names rather than solve problems.

It’s not easy, but usually doable, to find middle ground in these cases. For example, a store that sells everyday commodities to the public ought not to be able to pick and choose its customers. But an artisan using his or her creative talent should not to be forced to create something for a neo-Nazi celebration, or a same-sex marriage, if doing so violates one’s heartfelt religious convictions.

If I tried to buy an oil filter at an auto parts store and was refused service because I’m a Mormon, that would be improper discrimination. But if I asked a professional photographer to capture the joy of my daughter’s wedding on the steps of an LDS temple, a photographer who thinks Mormons are a cult should not be forced to participate.

NFL owners are requiring players to stand for the national anthem or stay in the locker room during that ceremony. The White House canceled the traditional appearance with Super Bowl victors Philadelphia Eagles. Is the NFL action a breach of First Amendment rights, or do owners have the right to demand compliance?

Pignanelli: Players have a right to peaceful protest. Fans will tolerate — to varying degrees — players’ expression of beliefs until such actions infringe upon performance or inhibit enjoyment. Then ticket sales will resolve the matter.

Webb: The owners certainly have the right to order players to respect the flag and anthem, especially because the players have an out by entering the field after the anthem is played. I have no sympathy for players who hijack a football game to make a political statement that most Americans oppose.

As for President Donald Trump disinviting the Eagles, he should simply end the tradition of sports teams going to the White House. It’s obvious that many sports superstars don’t like Trump and will try to embarrass him by saying they need to stay home and mow the lawn.

The Supreme Court recently authorized states to engage in sports betting. It also is expected to rule on state political district gerrymandering and allowing states to collect sales taxes on internet purchases. Do these cases give cause for Utahns to rejoice or grumble?

Pignanelli: Utah will continue to prohibit gambling (thank goodness, since I am easily tempted). Online sales taxation has received little attention, but it will impact every Utahn. This issue needs to be solved so Utah and other states can adapt their revenue policies accordingly.

Webb: The Supreme Court, thankfully, seems to favor turning a little power back to the states. Utah may be the last state standing against any form of gambling, and that’s OK. Every state needs its niche, its competitive advantage. Clean, safe and respectable isn’t a bad one.