The U.S. Supreme Court Monday ruled in favor of a Christian baker in Colorado who refused to lend his artistry to a wedding cake for a same-sex duo, scolding state officials for violating the U.S. Constitution by showing hostility to religion.
The dispute is over a demand by a homosexual duo that Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop provide them with a same-sex wedding cake at a time when same-sex marriage was illegal in the state.
Phillips cited his Christian faith in refusing the request, and the duo then summoned the power of a left-wing state Civil Rights Commission, which ordered Phillips and his staff to go through reindoctrination.
In a 7-2 vote, the court ruled Colorado violated the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause by showing hostility toward Phillips’ sincerely held religious beliefs.
“The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression,” the court said.
The court said Colorado law protects gay persons “in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members,” but it found “the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”
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“To Phillips, his claim that using his artistic skills to make an expressive statement, a wedding endorsement in his own voice and of his own creation, has a significant First Amendment speech component and implicates his deep and sincere religious beliefs.”
The justices pointed out that even Colorado law allows storekeepers “some latitude to decline to create specific messages they considered offensive.” And even the state commission, which demanded Phillips be punished and reindoctrinated, ruled that “in at least three [other] cases that a baker acted lawfully in declining to create cakes with decorations” that disagreed with their own beliefs.
The same commission that acknowledged those beliefs, however, refused to recognize Phillips’ rights.
“Phillips, too, was entitled to a neutral and respectful consideration of his claims in all the circumstances of the case,” the court said.
The state officials were given a tongue-lashing.
“The commision’s treatment of Phillips’ case … showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection. As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the commission’s formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillip’s faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.
“No commissioners objected to the comments,” the opinion noted.
In fact, the state commission’s antagonism to Christian beliefs became evident at the outset of the case, when one member, Diann Rice, publicly exhibited bias against Phillips during a hearing, comparing him to a Nazi.
“I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting,” Rice said during consideration of Phillips’ case. “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust, whether it be – I mean, we – we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to – to use their religion to hurt others.”
Hear Rice’s statement:
The issue is before the Supreme Court in the United Kingdom as well. There, a man demanded of a Christian baker a cake promoting a homosexual festival. The baker refused, based on his Christian faith, and the man insisted a government agency punish the baker.
A ruling could come within the next few weeks.
The issue also has arisen in the cases of a florist in Washington state who declined to provide artistry for a same-sex duo and was punished, an Oregon bakery that was put out of business by the state for an offense similar to Phillips’ and a Kentucky T-shirt maker sued for refusing to print shirts for a gay-pride festival.
LGBT activists have been targeting Christian businesses since the Supreme Court created same-sex marriage in 2015.
However, the high court drew a line in the sand in the Phillips case.
“Another indication of hostility is the different treatment of Phillips’ case and the cases of other bakers with objections to anti-gay messages who prevailed before the commission. The commission ruled against Phillips in part on the theory that any message on the requested wedding cake would be attributed to the customer, not to the baker. Yet the division did not address this point in any of the cases involving requests for cakes depicting anti-gay marriage symbolism,” the court said.
Fox News report of decision:
CBS News report:
“The division also considerd that each baker was willing to sell other products to the prospective customers, but the commission found Phillips’ willingness to do the same irrelevant.”
The Colorado commission did not respond to WND’s request for a comment.
The Supreme Court said the “record here demonstrates that the commission’s consideration of Phillips’ case was neither tolerant nor respectful of his religious beliefs.”
“The commission gave ‘every appearance’ … of adjudicating his religious objection based on a negative normative ‘evaluation of the particular justification’ for his objection and the religious grounds for it … but the government has no role in expressing or even suggesting whether the religious ground for Phillips’ conscience-based objection is legitimate or illegitimate.”
Only two justices dissented, Ruth Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
The majority opinion pointed out that in the court’s creation of same-sex marriage, it said “the First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”
The majority Monday said: “It can be assumed that a member of the clergy who objects to gay marriage on moral and religious grounds could not be compelled to perform the ceremony without denial of his or her right to the free exercise of religion. This refusal would be well understood … as an exercise of religion, an exercise that gay persons could recognize and accept without serious diminishment to their own dignity and worth.”
The opinion said a baker could be required to sell products to LGBT customers that are already available to other customers, such as cupcakes and cookies.
But when the issue is expressive endorsement, the baker’s constitutional rights trump the newly created LGBT rights.
But the majority ruling, from Anthony Kennedy, said the state “compromised” the “neutral and respectful consideration” it should have given Phillips.
“To describe a man’s faith as ‘one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use’ is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways,” the ruling said. “The court cannot avoid the conclusion that these statements cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the commission’s adjudication.”
Ginsburg and Sotomayor endorsed the decision of the state discrimination against Phillips, including the harsh statements made by commission members.
They cannot “justify” reversing the results, they concluded.