SCOTUS Sides 7-2 With Masterpiece Cakeshop in Major Religious Freedom Case

By Liberty McArtor Published on June 4, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Christian baker Jack Phillips Monday in Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Many viewed the high-profile case as a test for religious freedom in a post-same-sex marriage America. Conservatives feared a decision against Phillips would mean people of faith could be legally forced to participate in events that violated their conscience.

But after oral arguments in December, Supreme Court justices favored Phillips 7-2 Monday. The opinion was penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotamayor were the only dissenters.

Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented Phillips before the Supreme Court. Michael Farris, ADF president, celebrated the news on social media Monday.

“What is clear from today’s ruling is that religious freedom is an important component of how these cases are resolved,” he wrote on Facebook. “Religious animus or indifference is unconstitutional.”

The Opinion

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

In the opinion, the Court finds that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Kennedy writes the Commission did not offer Phillips the “neutral and respectful consideration of his claims” he was entitled to. “The Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case … showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.”

The Court also takes issue with the fact that the Commission compared Phillips’ “invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.”

In short, “the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.”

Case Background

Phillips’ journey to the Supreme Court began at his business, Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, Colorado. In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Phillips to design and bake a cake for their same-sex wedding reception. Phillips, a devout Christian, declined. He believes marriage is between one man and one woman. As ADF explains, “Jack cannot use his artistic talents to celebrate an event that contradicts that belief.”

It wasn’t the first time Phillips declined a cake request. He has also refused to make cakes celebrating Halloween or have vulgar messages.

“Religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.”

Phillips offered to sell Craig and Mullins any pre-made product in his store. He also offered to make them a cake for another event. He only declined to make a custom cake for their wedding reception. At the time, same-sex marriage was not legal in Colorado.

Still, Craig and Mullins complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Commission sided with the couple.

Objections to Gay Marriage Protected

“Given the State’s position at the time, there is some force to Phillips’ argument that he was not unreasonable in deeming his decision lawful,” the Supreme Court opinion states. The opinion also notes that Colorado’s Civil Rights Division upheld three different bakers’ rights to decline requests to make cakes “that demeaned gay persons or gay marriages.”

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The opinion goes on to note another inconsistency in the Commission’s conduct. Phillips claimed he could not create a cake with a message that violated his religious beliefs. The Commission responded that any message on the cake would be attributed to the customer, and not to Philips. “Yet the Division did not address this point in any of the cases involving requests for cakes depicting anti-gay marriage symbolism,” the Supreme Court found.

“The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights,” Monday’s opinion reads. “But religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.”

ACLU and ADF Respond

ACLU, the legal group that represented Craig and Mullins, isn’t viewing the decision as a defeat.

According to a statement issued Monday, “The Supreme Court today reaffirmed the core principle that businesses open to the public must be open to all.” ACLU noted the Court’s primary problem with the Commission: that it “made statements evidencing anti-religious bias.”

In a press release, ADF praised the Court’s decision. 

“Government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society,” said ADF attorney Kristen Waggoner. She went on, “the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage. The court was right to condemn that.” 

In his Facebook post, Farris referenced another of ADF’s cases that also deals with religious freedom and same-sex marriage, Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington. That case, also before the Supreme Court, “is left unanswered by today’s decision,” Farris said. A decision could come as soon as next week, he said.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 2:55 p.m. CT to include Michael Farris’ comments.

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