Advocates of religious freedom for the Christian community gained an important momentary victory from the U.S. Supreme Court in a much anticipated case involving a Colorado bakery owner. The High Court ruled that Jack Phillips was a victim of religious discrimination when he was penalized for declining to decorate a “wedding” cake for a same-sex union ceremony. Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. He was approached in 2012 by a same-sex couple who were seeking a personalized customized cake for their “wedding reception.” Phillips declined to accept the order, stating that he could not participate in a celebration of behavior that violated his religious convictions.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint against Phillips with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The ACLU alleged that Phillips had failed to comply with a state law prohibiting discrimination based on “sexual orientation” in public accommodations. The Commission ruled against the Christian baker, saying he was guilty of religious-based bigotry, and ordered him and his staff to undergo “sensitivity training sessions.” In a 7-2 decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court ruled that the actions of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Jack Phillips’ right to the free exercise of religion. Kennedy and his colleagues concluded that the Commission had demonstrated clear and impermissible hostility toward the baker’s sincere religious beliefs.
“Commissioners endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, implying that religious beliefs and persons are less than fully welcome in Colorado’s business community,” the majority opinion reads. “One commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.” That last official slur was particularly offensive to Jack Phillips. His father was a veteran who was severely injured in combat during World War II. He was part of a unit that helped to liberate a Nazi concentration camp. “For the commissioner to compare standing for my faith to Hitler’s atrocities is just unspeakable,” Phillips had said at the time. The High Court also concluded that Phillips had been subjected to differential treatment by the civil rights tribunal. Justice Kennedy took note of the fact that the Commission had upheld the right of other bakers to decline to decorate cakes including Scriptural passages disapproving of same-sex relationships.
“It is not the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive,” Kennedy wrote. “The Colorado Court elevated one view of what is offensive over another and sent a signal of official disapproval of Phillips’ religious beliefs…The government cannot act in a manner that passes judgement upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices.”
The Masterpiece Cakeshop decision was not, nonetheless, the sweeping victory for conscience rights that religious liberty advocates had hoped for. Justice Kennedy stated in closing his opinion that “the outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts.” Kennedy has been an unrelenting champion of homosexual rights on the High Court, penning the arbitrary dictatorial decision that redefined marriage to include same-sex unions.in his latest example of philosophical sophistry, Kennedy expressed concern that “a long list of persons who provide goods and services for marriages and weddings might refuse to do so for gay persons, thus resulting in a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws.” The only dynamics truly in play here are Kennedy’s own personal sentiments. The conservative justices on the Supreme Court would have issued a more decisive verdict in favor of First Amendment free exercise rights. Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that “no bureaucratic judgement condemning a sincerely held religious belief as ‘irrational’ or ‘offensive’ will ever survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment.”
“Just as it is the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence that we protect speech that we hate, it must be the proudest boast of our free exercise jurisprudence that we protect religious beliefs that we find offensive,” Gorsuch observed. Justice Clarence Thomas went even further in arguing that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated Phillips’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. “By forcing Philips to create custom wedding cakes for same-sex ‘weddings,’ Colorado’s public accommodations laws alters the expressive content of his message…States cannot put individuals to the choice of being compelled to affirm someone else’s belief or being forced to speak when they would prefer to remain silent.”
Jack Phillips responded to the Supreme Court decision with this statement: “I serve all who walk through my doors, people from all walks of life. I’ve spent years honing my craft as a cake artist, combining baking with my love of sculpting, painting, and sketching. And I love my work because a cake is a canvas on which I express ideas, celebrate events, and bring joy to people’s lives. “It was shocking to me that the government would try to take away my freedoms and force me to create something that went against my faith. The Colorado government’s hostility directly impacted my family’s shop. We faced death threats and harassment.”
“I’m profoundly thankful that the Court saw the injustice that the government inflicted on me. Today’s decision makes clear that tolerance is a two-way street. If we want to have freedom ourselves, we have to extend it to others with whom we disagree about important issues like the meaning of marriage.” Many legal observers have speculated that Justice Kennedy will announce his retirement from the High Court following the end of its current term, which ends later this month. It is hoped that his replacement will join the conservative justices on the Court in affirming that no Christian wedding vendor can be compelled by the government to assist in celebrating something God has called an abomination.