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Brief # 42—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Masterpiece Cakeshop, a bakery in Colorado, to create a wedding cake to celebrate their wedding. The baker, Jack Phillips, refused citing his religious beliefs, which include opposition to same – sex marriages. Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins then filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission claiming they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation under the Colorado Anti – Discrimination Act. A lawsuit ensued and the case was found in favor of Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins. The case was appealed to the Court of Appeals which upheld the verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. Masterpiece Cakeshop and baker Jack Phillips appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that Mr. Phillips was being compelled to create expression that was in violation of his Free Speech and Free Exercise of religion rights under the First Amendment.

On June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court issued a 7 – 2 opinion in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop and Jack Phillips. The Court ruled that the Commission’s hostility toward baker Jack Phillips “was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion” and therefore reversed the order of the Colorado Court of Appeals based on his religious rights under the Free Exercise clause. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

In one of the most highly anticipated cases during this Supreme Court term, the Court issued an opinion that was neither the immediate landmark nor earth shattering opinion that each side had wanted. The case was unique because it pitted the First Amendment’s rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion on one side against the freedom from discrimination on the other. Both rights and protections are cherished rights in the United States and should not be limited as much as possible.

The one grave concern that many had about the case was that if the baker could use his religion to serve only people who were not offensive to his faith then it would open the door for other people to do the same thing. Would a Christian or Jewish businessman be permitted to refuse service to a Muslim person because of religious beliefs? Or could religion be used to deny service to persons based on their race or nationality? Would people who are not normally religious or devout in their ordinary lives use religion to discriminate whenever it was convenient for them at the moment?

Justice Kennedy, who authored the majority opinion, went to great lengths to show that religious activities will not always permit discriminatory behavior. He stated that in a different scenario and under Court precedents “[T]he baker…might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws.” This is key because it shows that in a different situation, such as those mentioned above, the Court will likely not allow religion to be used to freely discriminate against others.

With this opinion, Justice Kennedy has been able to find that balance that upholds First Amendment freedom of religion rights (the opinion criticizes the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for hostile language towards the baker in their investigation of him and his religious beliefs) while also stating in the text that religion cannot be used to harm others. He states that gay persons and couples cannot be treated as “social outcasts and/or inferior in dignity and worth” and that the law “will protect them in the exercise of their civil rights.” This case may not have been the win that the LGBQT was looking for but Justice Kennedy’s opinion puts in place the rationale and arguments that can protect their community going forward and prevent future incidents of this kind. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Image by: April Pethybridge

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