The Supreme Court has found for a baker in a case involving his refusal to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple’s wedding. The Court found that the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, the law under which the lawsuit was filed, was not applied in a way that was neutral towards the baker’s religion. The ruling was 7-2.
The case involved a same-sex couple, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, who entered the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, in July 2012. The shop is operated by Jack Phillips, an expert baker who has owned the shop for 24 years.
Colorado did not recognize same-sex marriage at that time so Craig and Mullins told Phillips they planned to get married in Massachusetts then host the reception in Denver afterward. They said they were interested in ordering a cake from Phillips for that reception.
Phillips told the couple that he would create birthday cakes, shower cakes or sell them any of the other items he offered in his store but that he would not create cakes for same-sex weddings because it violated his religious beliefs. Phillips is a devout Christian.
Craig and Mullins then sued under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. A state Civil Rights Commission found for the couple and referred their case to a state Administrative Law Judge.
Phillips raised two claims in his defense before that ALJ: First, that compelling him to create the cake for the couple would violate his First Amendment right to free speech by compelling him to exercise his artistic talents to express a message with which he disagreed, and second that requiring him to create cakes for same-sex weddings would violate his right to the free exercise of religion.
The ALJ and Civil Rights Commission both found for Craig and Mullins. Phillips appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which also ruled against him. He then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Justice Kennedy in delivering the opinion of the Court wrote that the Colorado state commission failed to rule against Phillips without hostility toward religion or religious viewpoint.
He cited comments made during more than one hearing that were demeaning of Phillips’ religious beliefs, including one by a commissioner who said Phillips should have to “compromise” his beliefs in order to do business in Colorado, and another who called the use of religious viewpoints “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric…people can use.”
“The Commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” Kennedy wrote. He also noted the delicate balance that must be struck between protecting religious beliefs and respect for anti-discrimination laws.
“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be re-solved 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,” he added.
Kennedy was joined in his decision by Justices Roberts, Breyer, Alito, Kagan and Gorsuch. Justice Thomas concurred with the ruling but filed a separate opinion on the rationale.
Justice Ginsburg dissented by disputing the notion comments made by Colorado State Commissioners amounted to hostility.
“The different outcomes the Court features do not evidence hostility to religion of the kind we have previously held to signal a free-exercise violation, nor do the comments by one or two members of one of the four decision making entities considering this case justify re-versing the [lower court’s] judgment…” she wrote.
Ginsburg was joined by Justice Sotomayor in her dissent.
“Today’s decision means our fight against discrimination and unfair treatment will continue. We have always believed that in America, you should not be turned away from a business open to the public because of who you are,” said Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins in a statement after the verdict.
“We brought this case because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment, and humiliation of being told ‘we don’t serve your kind here’ that we faced, and we will continue fighting until no one does,” they added.
Jack Phillips was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group dedicated to protecting religious freedoms. Kristen Waggoner, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at ADF, argued the case before the high court. She praised the ruling.
“Jack serves all customers; he simply declines to express messages or celebrate events that violate his deeply held beliefs. Creative professionals who serve all people should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment,” she wrote in a statement.
“Government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society, yet the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage. The court was right to condemn that. Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a society like ours. This decision makes clear that the government must respect Jack’s beliefs about marriage,” she added.
Photo of Davidlud via Wikimedia Commons