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US Supreme Court says religious liberty takes the cake

North America

US Supreme Court says religious liberty takes the cake

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips. Photo Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom.

This week Supreme Court rules 7-2 in favor of Jack Phillips, doing the right thing

In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips and the Masterpiece Cake Shop. The ruling shocked the so-called LGBTQ lobby that saw it as discriminatory towards gays and lesbians. It was not a ruling they wanted.

However, the Justices concluded that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed animus toward Phillips specifically when they suggested his claims of religious freedom was made to justify discrimination they were inappropriately hostile toward Phillip’s religious liberty claim.

Phillips’s reasons for declining to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding celebration violated the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

In an opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals of Colorado. Justice Kagan filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Breyer joined. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Alito joined. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in which Justice Gorsuch joined. Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Sotomayor joined.

The majority held that, while the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage were protected views, and in some instances protected forms of expression. Though Colorado law could protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as were offered to other members of the public, the law had to be applied in a manner neutral toward religion.

Phillips’s claim that using his artistic skills to make an expressive statement – a wedding endorsement in his own voice and of his own creation – had a significant First Amendment speech component and implicated his deep and sincere religious beliefs. The Court also noted that in 2012 Colorado had not recognized the validity of gay marriages, nor had the Supreme Court itself handed down judgment in Obergefell. There was some force to Phillips’s argument that he was not unreasonable in believing that his decision had been lawful:

“State law at the time also afforded storekeepers some latitude to decline to create specific messages they considered offensive. Indeed, while the instant enforcement proceedings were pending, the State Civil Rights Division concluded in at least three cases that a baker acted lawfully in declining to create cakes with decorations that demeaned gay persons or gay marriages. Phillips too was entitled to a neutral and respectful consideration of his claims in all the circumstances of the case.”

In the opinion of the Court, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of Phillips’s case had “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection”, to an extent that called into question the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication. There had also been a difference of treatment as between Phillips’s case and the cases of other bakers with objections to anti-gay messages who had been successful before the Commission.

The Supreme Court is still working to set an important line where Christians can and will choose to dissent from the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in society. This is a significant moment as it is the first major ruling since Obergefell, which made same-sex marriage the law of the land.

However, the ruling, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is not the wide-ranging ruling on religious liberty that some expected. It is tailored to the case at hand.

A not dissimilar case has been working its way through the courts in Northern Ireland.

While still not fully resolved the case has shown how deep the fault lines are between evangelical Christians and the LGBT community and, like the Colorado case, it has attracted attention across the world.

Christian owners of Ashers Bakery were found to have discriminated against gay activist Gareth Lee, by refusing to make a cake iced with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.

The Christian Institute says it is prepared to go the distance – to Strasbourg if necessary. The Christian Institute has agreed from the start that we will meet the entire legal bill for the McArthurs.