US Supreme Court says baker could refuse to bake cake for same-sex wedding

June 4, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 4 that the state of Colorado violated a baker’s rights when its Civil Rights Commission said that he had to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Colorado courts had upheld the commission’s finding that baker Jack Phillips’ refusal went against the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed because of the way the commission reached its conclusion.

“The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 7-2 majority. He said that comments by some of the commissioners were clearly hostile to Phillips and his claims.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, writing that those comments should not be taken as sufficient evidence that the commission’s ruling was flawed. They noted that the commission’s ruling had been upheld by other “layers of independent decisionmaking.”

The much-watched case drew nearly 100 amicus briefs, including one from Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and the leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Chicago Theological Seminary.

The leaders said that Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws protect religious liberty by prohibiting discrimination based on religion while also exempting religious institutions from their application, so that houses of worship may exercise religion freely within their walls.

They said such laws promote human dignity, which is a religious value, by ensuring that all individuals have equal access to the commercial marketplace. When Phillips opened his bakery, he entered the public marketplace and made his shop subject to Colorado’s laws governing public accommodations, including the statute forbidding discrimination, they said.

Phillips contended that his First Amendment rights protected him against Colorado’s public accommodations laws.

The court said the ruling was not to be seen as a precedent for future discrimination claims.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” Kennedy wrote, “all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

The ruling in the case known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111 is here.

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