In 2012, Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips’s life changed when he refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Since this faithful day, he’s battled in multiple courts to defend his religious freedom. On June 4, 2018, the owner of Masterpiece Cake in Lakewood, Colorado, was vindicated when the United States Supreme Court ruled in his favor with a 7-2 vote.
The case began when Charlie Craig and David Mullins requested Phillips bake a wedding cake for their same-sex ceremony. After the cake baker “politely declined” due to his beliefs that marriage should be between one man and one woman, the homosexual couple filed a complaint with Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission. The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, currently represents Craig and Mullins. The Civil Rights Commission of the state of Colorado determined Phillips acted in a discriminatory manner. According to the Christian baker’s lawyers with the Alliance Defending Freedom, ADF, a conservative legal firm, Phillips was required to participate in “re-educating his staff and filing quarterly ‘compliance’ reports for two years.”
The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the state’s Civil Rights Commission’s decision. When the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear Phillips’s case in April of 2017, the Christian baker asked the United States Supreme Court to take it up. His lawyers argued that no none living in this country should be coerced to use creative or artistic expression if engaging in it would go against his or her conscience. Phillips insisted his reason for not baking the cake for the same-sex ceremony stemmed wholly from his Biblical views about marriage. He’s went so far as to say he would decline to decorate cakes with “offensive written messages and cakes celebrating events or ideas that violate his beliefs, including cakes celebrating Halloween, anti-American or anti-family themes, atheism, racism, or indecency.”
In a statement, Jeremy Tedesco, ADF senior counsel, remarked, “No one — not Jack or anyone else — should be forced by the government to further a message that they cannot in good conscience promote. And that’s what this case is about.” In a statement issued in 2017, Ria Tabacco Mar, an ACLU lawyer who represents Craig and Mullins, stated, “We all have a right to our personal beliefs, but we do not have a right to impose those beliefs on others and harm them.” Mar maintained the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause eclipses the First Amendment in public accommodation cases.
Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the United States Supreme Court’s opinion concerning Phillips’s case. He stated, “Whatever the confluence of speech and free exercise principles might be in some cases, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality. The reason and motive for the baker’s refusal were based on his sincere religious beliefs and convictions.”
Justice Kennedy went on to write, “The Court’s precedents make clear that the baker, in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public, might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws.”
The Justice who is often known for his swing votes further explained, “Still, the delicate question of when the free exercise of his religion must yield to an otherwise valid exercise of state power needed to be determined in an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor in the balance the State sought to reach. That requirement, however, was not met here.” He described how the Colorado Civil Rights Commission didn’t weigh Phillips’s case with the neutrality required by the United States Constitution. Therefore, its actions defied the Free Exercise Clause.
While the decision was a victory for Phillips and religious freedom, the Justices’ narrow ruling concentrated on what they deemed as anti-religious bias on the part of Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission. They failed to decide the larger issue of whether a business can decline to serve lesbian and gay customers. Justices Sonya Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the only ones to dissent the opinion. Ginsburg wrote, “I see no reason why the comments of one or two Commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins.”
~ 1776 Christian