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June 4 2018

Supreme Court Sides with Colorado Baker in 7-2 Ruling

by Charlotte Hays

The Supreme Court issued a 7-2 ruling in the case of the Colorado baker who said that his religious beliefs prevented him for baking a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.

However, in siding with the baker, the Court sidestepped the issue of religious liberty. Here is the Wall Street Journal's description of the ruling:

The Supreme Court ducked deciding whether religious merchants have a constitutional right to deny service to gay people, but did rule Monday that a Christian baker didn’t get a fair hearing before a state civil-rights commission and therefore shouldn’t be penalized for turning away a same-sex couple.

The ruling, by a 7-to-2 vote, is a victory for Jack Phillips, who turned away Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins when they came to order a wedding cake from his Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found the baker in violation of state law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Still, the opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy went no further than saying the commissioners, based on comments in hearing transcripts, had failed to give “neutral and respectful consideration” to Mr. Phillips’s claim that his constitutional right to religious exercise entitled him to disregard the state civil-rights law.

A news story on Fox notes tthe narrowness in the ruling in the Mastercake case:

The narrow ruling here focused on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. 

"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," [Justice Anthony] Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. 

The case was triggered in 2012 when Charlie Craig and David Mullins sought to commission a wedding cake from Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado. Owner Jack Phillips said he could not make the cake because he is a Christian and believes same-sex marriage is wrong.

Phillips has emphasized that he serves gay couples, but he believed that providing the wedding cake would involve him in something he regarded as sinful:

And [Phillips] has maintained that it’s his choice: "It's not about turning away these customers, it's about doing a cake for an event -- a religious sacred event -- that conflicts with my conscience," he said last year.

While Phillips will undoubtedly be glad to be vindicated, Justice Kennedy's single-minded focus on the commissioners' hostility to religious rights means that the ruling didn't address constitutional issues. This brings us to an interesting point made by Hot Air:

Conservatives wanted the Court to hold that business owners have a First Amendment right to free exercise of religion that trumps antidiscimination laws, at least with respect to catering gay weddings. What the Court actually held is that *in this particular case* Colorado’s antidiscrimination commission was so openly hostile to Jack Phillips’s religious claims, dismissing his beliefs as insincere and holding him to a double standard that pro-gay business owners weren’t held to, that they violated his particular right to free exercise.

Which leaves undecided the key question: What if the commission had been more respectful of Phillips?

Interesting question, but if the Court had not sided with Phillips, it would have been a huge blow for First Amendment rights.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were dissenters from the ruling.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, the other liberal justices, joined the majority. Kagan wrote separately to underline that this isa limited ruling.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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