The National Pulse

Supreme Court Backs Christian Baker in Gay Wedding Cake Case

Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony in 2012. The Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was 7-2, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the majority opinion. The six-year long case pitted religious liberty against anti-discrimination claims, but the Court ultimately sided with Phillips.

In 2012, Phillips turned down a request to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins on the grounds that doing so would imply support for same-sex marriage and therefore violate his Christian beliefs. Mullins and Craig proceeded to file a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, arguing that Phillips’ refusal violated a Colorado civil rights law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public spaces. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court last year, bringing fundamental constitutional questions to the forefront of political debate.

“Today’s emphatic 7-2 ruling is a tremendous victory for Jack Phillips and all Americans who desire to follow their faith and conscience. It also serves as a condemnation of the institutional anti-Christian bigotry that has grown rampant over the past decade,” executive director at American Principles Project Terry Schilling said.

The majority opinion states that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to treat Phillips’ beliefs with tolerance or respect during its adjudication of the case, thereby violating the state’s obligation under the Free Exercise Clause to not base rulings on hostility towards religious faith. Justice Kennedy cites quotes to illustrate the intolerant nature of the proceedings. Referencing a commissioner’s comment, Kennedy wrote that “to describe a man’s faith as ‘one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use’ is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere.”

“For these reasons, the Court cannot avoid the conclusion that these statements cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication of Phillips’ case,” Kennedy concluded. “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.”

While many conservatives are celebrating the Court’s ruling as a victory for religious freedom, others argue the Court’s decision does not ensure similar outcomes for future cases. The American Civil Liberties Union, the organization representing Craig and Mullins, remarked that since the ruling was based on the specifics of Phillips’ case, it doesn’t create a precedent for future rulings.

“The court reversed the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision based on concerns unique to the case but reaffirmed its longstanding rule that states can prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBT people,” ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling said.

A CNN Supreme Court analyst echoed the idea that today’s decision does not settle fundamental disagreements presented by Phillips’ case.

“Today’s decision is remarkably narrow, and leaves for another day virtually all of the major constitutional questions that this case presented. It’s hard to see the decision setting a precedent,” CNN Supreme Court analyst and University of Texas Law professor Steve Vladeck said.

Nonetheless, a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Phillips is a victory for proponents of religious freedom that viewed the case against Phillips as an attack on free expression of religion and speech.

“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,” said Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, the firm defending Phillips.

“Progressives have sought to suppress any views that differ from an activist LGBT agenda, while steamrolling fundamental human rights like the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of association,” APP’s Schilling further added. “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a significant first step in pushing back on that progressive effort and preserving an America [where] all can live out their faith in the public square without fear of government persecution.”

Bridget Starrs

Bridget Starrs works for the American Principles Project.

  • This hateful monster bakes wedding cakes to people who have been divorced.The Bible doesn’t like that. The Jesus who never ever mentioned a word about homosexuality certainly condemns divorce. The bigot’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” rest on a bed of lies. Starrs should be ashamed.

  • If Bridget Starrs was really appalled by anti-Christian bigotry, she would have vociferously condemned the conservative bigots that used state force to deny Christian churches the right to perform legal same-sex marriages. No comment by Starrs on this denial of religious freedom.

    If she truly believes that public accommodations should have the legal right to use their “religious” beliefs as justification to turn away customers, then she would admit that this could also be used against all minorities, including interracial couples. She selectively reserves her commentary to support discrimination against gays, the minority she clearly hates. I see nothing of Christ in her version of Christianity.

    Starrs is allergic to the truth.

  • “Progressives have sought to suppress any views that differ from an activist LGBT agenda, while steamrolling fundamental human rights like the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of association.”

    Starrs is being really cute! Surely she jests. It was conservatives like this bigoted baker who use government to deny legally married gay couples the right to adopt. Suppression indeed. Right wing religious hate groups have used the government to deny legal same sex marriages–even those performed in Christian churches. Right wing churches cheered on laws that outlaw the private sex lives of gay people. Does Starrs condemn these right wing evangelicals who have used government to deny decent gay citizens equal protection?

    The day that white evangelicals are singled out and can’t legally marry, adopt or keep government out of their private sex lives is the day when I will stop calling Starrs dishonest.

    Meanwhile, I agree “The court was right to condemn that. Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a society like ours.”

    I am a Christian who is morally disgusted by this bigoted baker. Yes, we have our difference of opinion. Starrs clearly endoses this man’s hate. I will tolerate public accommodations serving right wing evangelicals as long as the same respect is given to gay couples. That is tolerance, something Starrs falsely claims to endorse … all in bad faith.

  • By Starrs’s devious logic, this baker should have the so-called religious liberty to refuse service to an interracial couple. Religious conservatives indeed made this argument until the a Supreme Court put an end to the hate. The point is that Starrs has religious freedom. She is free to believe her bigotry and can express her contempt for gays in what she calls a church. Indeed my Christian Church performs same sex marriage. We are morally repelled by this baker. If you open a secular public accommodation, you obey the law. In Colorado this means not discriminating against LGBT citizens.

  • It is actually right wing religionists who violate religious freedom. They have habitually used the brute force to deny Christian Churches the right to perform legal same-sex marriage.

    Bridget is right. This case was settled on a technicality and does not mean the judges approve of the baker’s bigotry. The fundamental question of whether or not a heinous bigot can hide behind religion as his excuse to deny gay citizens their civil rights in a public accommodation will get settled on another day.