U.S. Supreme Court Decides For Religious Liberty
After many months of deliberation, the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS” or “the Court”) found in favor of Jack Phillips, the Masterpiece Cake shop owner, in a 7-2 holding (i.e. seven Justices found in his favor, and two dissented). In short, Masterpiece Cakeshop is a custom bakery owned and operated out of Colorado by Jack Phillips. In 2012, a same-sex couple, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, requested that Mr. Phillips make their custom wedding cake. Mr. Phillips refused to make the wedding cake on the basis that his sincerely held religious convictions prohibit him from using his artistic talent to celebrate marriages which are contrary to the tenets of his faith. The couple filed a discrimination claim with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found in their favor, a decision which was affirmed by subsequent courts on appeal. Alliance Defending Freedom, with whom Rob Showers serves as an Allied attorney, took Mr. Phillips’ case to the Supreme Court, arguing that Mr. Phillips’ rights to free speech and free exercise of religion had been violated.
What is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm’n?
In his majority opinion for the Court, Justice Kennedy held that “[t]he Commission’s actions in this case violated the Free Exercise Clause,” (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm’n, 2018 U.S. Lexis 3386, 2). While the Court acknowledged the constitutional protections of both same-sex couples and religious convictions against same-sex unions, its emphasis was on the neutrality with which the law must be applied. In this case, SCOTUS found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (“the Commission”) failed to apply the law neutrally, and even wantonly discriminated against Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs with improper, disrespectful, and even hostile remarks against his convictions. Click here to read the full SCOTUS decision.
What it Means
The Court’s holding is limited and narrow, based on the peculiar facts of the case. Even though it held in Mr. Phillips’ favor, SCOTUS was clear that it found the manner in which the Commission applied the law to be unacceptable. The Court stressed that the Commission could have denied Mr. Phillips the practice of his religious rights, had it done so properly, in a neutral manner: “The State’s interest could have been weighted against Phillips’ sincere religious objections in a way consistent with the requisite religious neutrality that must be strictly observed.” (ibid at 6). Thus, it’s a tenuous, and somewhat case-specific, ruling for religious liberty. How it applies to future cases may be difficult to predict in light of the narrow ruling, but commentators think the court composition may change in the near future.
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