Christian Baker Wins Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

Jack Phillips scores a major religious freedom victory—for himself, as ruling fails to resolve legal debate over LGBT accommodations and conscience rights of conservative Christians.

According to religious liberty scholar Thomas Berg, law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling opposes outright religious hostility but offers little indication on how future cases would pan out in different contexts. “This is a narrow, fact-based ruling, resting on two sorts of indicators that the Colorado state decision-makers were hostile to Phillips’s traditionalist religious beliefs about marriage.”

 

In the biggest religious liberty case of the year, the US Supreme Court sided 7–2 against a state commission that unfairly singled out a Christian baker who declined to decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding.

The high court ruled that state penalties levied against Jack Phillips, the Colorado business owner at the center of Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, violated his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion since the regulations were not applied neutrally.

While the court clearly came down in Phillips’s favor, Anthony Kennedy acknowledged in the court’s opinion that similar cases (like those that have come up involving photographers and florists, as well as pizza shops and a range of other businesses) may be adjudicated differently.

As SCOTUSblog wrote in summary, the decision still allows for the government to bar discrimination against same-sex couples, “so long as the law is applied neutrally and without hostility to religion. But whether the very same law could sometimes violate free speech rights is still totally open.”

According to religious liberty scholar Thomas Berg, law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling opposes outright religious hostility but offers little indication on how future cases would pan out in different contexts.

“This is a narrow, fact-based ruling, resting on two sorts of indicators that the Colorado state decision-makers were hostile to Phillips’s traditionalist religious beliefs about marriage,” he told CT:

First were statements by various civil-rights commissioners denigrating or dismissing his beliefs (one called them “despicable pieces of rhetoric” and compared them to slavery and the Holocaust; another said there’s no right for a person to “act on his religious beliefs if he wants to do business in this state”). Officials in future cases can easily avoid this problem by not articulating such views publicly, even if they hold them. That might not change any results.

Second was that Colorado was inconsistent in several ways in prohibiting Phillips from declining to provide a same-sex-wedding cake, while allowing other bakers to decline to provide cakes with anti-gay messages.

Despite the narrow ruling, today’s decision still has religious freedom advocates celebrating.

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