US Supreme Court says baker could refuse to bake cake for same-sex wedding

By ENS Staff
Posted Jun 4, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 4 that the state of Colorado violated a baker’s rights when its Civil Rights Commission said that he had to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Colorado courts had upheld the commission’s finding that baker Jack Phillips’ refusal went against the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed because of the way the commission reached its conclusion.

“The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 7-2 majority. He said that comments by some of the commissioners were clearly hostile to Phillips and his claims.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, writing that those comments should not be taken as sufficient evidence that the commission’s ruling was flawed. They noted that the commission’s ruling had been upheld by other “layers of independent decision-making.”

The much-watched case drew nearly 100 amicus briefs, including one from Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and the leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Chicago Theological Seminary.

The leaders said that Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws protect religious liberty by prohibiting discrimination based on religion while also exempting religious institutions from their application, so that houses of worship may exercise religion freely within their walls.

They said such laws promote human dignity, which is a religious value, by ensuring that all individuals have equal access to the commercial marketplace. When Phillips opened his bakery, he entered the public marketplace and made his shop subject to Colorado’s laws governing public accommodations, including the statute forbidding discrimination, they said.

Phillips contended that his First Amendment rights protected him against Colorado’s public accommodations laws.

The court said the ruling was not to be seen as a precedent for future discrimination claims.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” Kennedy wrote, “all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

The ruling in the case known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111 is here.


Comments (12)

  1. william dailey says:

    Well suprise! Our Church is once again on the wrong side of the law. Apparently the Supreme Court was less than awed by the argument that God was on the side of the Church leaders and their interpretation of individual and religious rights. Does this mean that Episcopal bakers still risk excommunication if they refuse to serve the diverse minorities favored by the Church?

  2. Rev. Robert C. Walters says:

    Mr. Dailey, you and I are in agreement. At last, even if the judgement is intentionally narrow, the Supreme Court has slowed the secular push for homosexual marriage, and now persons can and aught to work for Civil Union laws that fulfill all lawful wishes of homosexual persons without the sexual implications. Before readers whom I may offend attack my position, consider if we want to establish a principle where a Jewish baker or florist or printer should have to provide their services for the celebration of Hitler’s birthday. And please, I am not comparing the subjects, but thinking of the principle.

  3. mike geibel says:

    The hostility and bias of the commissioners in support of freedom of gender choice and disparagement of a private individual’s freedom to hold religious beliefs, even when exercised in the marketplace, was the central reason the lower court decisions were overturned. The message was that a decision based upon the personal bias of a judge either in favor of or against a political, religious or social issue cannot be the basis for establishing legal precedent.

    The case has very limited applicability. The Justices did not issue a blanket sanction for the use of personal religious beliefs to discriminate against gays or to refuse services to members of a “protected class” (such as minorities), nor does the decision alter in any way the Supreme Court’s decision sanctioning same sex marriages in State civil unions.

    Perhaps the issue of “baking a cake” was a poor choice to use to try to create a binding precedent for gender discrimination in “private action” cases. The case is a shining example of civil rights lawyers, and churches who support same sex marriages and a social justice/gender justice agenda, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars enriching lawyers in an effort to establish an abstract “social” principle that protects some from perceived disparate treatment by private individuals—there were no laws or “state actions” at issue which violated the personal freedoms of the plaintiffs, but only the asserted right of a private bakery to decline services based upon the owner’s religious belief that opposed same sex marriages. In the today’s modern world, most towns and cities have plenty of bakeries, and most disappointed plaintiffs would simply go to a different baker who would gladly accept their money to bake a same-sex wedding cake.

  4. PJ Cabbiness says:

    An excellent, narrow decision that expertly handled very difficult subject matter.

  5. Rev Peter Sickels says:

    all of your straight white male homophobia is exposed for all to see-
    Rev Walters raises the half-baked oven metaphor via reference to Hitler- oh a commercial baker can decide what and for whom HE shall bake in his ovens- many small towns do not have more than one bakery that can bake a wedding cake- let the threatened baker find someone not so hateful to bake the cake in his ovens and not force a gay customer into another town

    1. Rev. Robert C. Walters says:

      Greetings, Fr. Sickels, Your characterization of me as a straight, white male is accurate, but you err in calling me a ‘homophobe,’ since that refers to fear, and I fear none of my homosexual friends and acquaintances, who, while in some cases disagreeing, understand my position. My reference to a Hitler birthday party is not far-fetched. Of course, one of the women can do the baking, but isn’t it more fun to needle the Jew? I spent some wonderful years in a Western small town and know something of its limitations and resources. You have no doubt been hurt for your sexual orientation, but try to simmer down, if you can. Some of us straight, white males will go with you as far as we can, just not as far as you might like.

  6. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

    The Church should be standing for the right to practice one’s faith and protect that right from government infringement. In pre-Nazi Germany the Church made the same mistake as it is making now. It is on the wrong side of the Gospel of Love. It has compromised that Gospel with the world of politics. Sad!

  7. Doug Desper says:

    By calculations the gay couple drove 120 miles past 73 bakeries, including 3 owned by Muslims, to find this Christian baker. He didn’t refuse to bake a cake. He refused to decorate it as a wedding cake. He also won’t decorate Halloween cakes because of his religious values. This case was, apparently, a clear targeting to prevent any dissent to the revised meaning of marriage. If the big tent of the Episcopal Church still has room for the current/traditional teaching of marriage in BCP, then we should be disturbed that there was such a clear targeting of this baker’s view.

    1. Rev. Bob. Walters says:

      Mr. Desper, having seen this tactic used before, I, too, suspected that this might be a possibility.

  8. mike geibel says:

    “All all of your straight white male homophobia is exposed for all to see”

    Dear Rev. Sickels:
    An Ad hominem attack used in an argument is defined as “logical fallacy.” Venomous name-calling is the byproduct of the hate that is so symbolic of the virulent public debates that divide us. Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion certainly does not meet your “white male” description, and many of the “straight white male homophobic” Justices issuing this Opinion are the same Justices who held that the Constitution protects the right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges.

    I trust you have read the Opinion and each of the concurring and dissenting Opinions. Each Justice relies upon principles of Constitutional Law. The majority (7 to 2) expressly held that 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 following quote from one of the concurring opinions explains that even opinions or religious beliefs which most people may find misguided, are protected under the Constitution.

    “Many may agree with the Commission and consider Mr. Phillips’s religious beliefs irrational or offensive. Some may believe he misinterprets the teachings of his faith. And, to be sure, this Court has held same-sex marriage a matter of constitutional right and various States have enacted laws that preclude discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But it is also true that no bureaucratic judgment condemning a sincerely held religious belief as ‘irrational’ or ‘offensive’ will ever survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment. In this country, the place of secular officials isn’t to sit in judgment of religious beliefs, but only to protect their free exercise. Just as it is the ‘proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence’ that we protect speech that we hate, it must be the proudest boast of our free exercise jurisprudence that we protect religious beliefs that we find offensive.”

    Judges are not free to choose which “religious beliefs” are politically correct or acceptable, and which are not. The Decision protects your Constitutional right to call other commenters here as “straight white male homophobics.” But insults are hate speech, ugly and never persuasive in changing minds or hearts.

  9. william dailey says:

    I took the time to read the amicus brief filed by our church and others. It was a “how many angels can sit on the head of a pin

    1. william dailey says:

      I am continuing my above comment-sorry for the break. continuing-head of a pin.” In other words it was a rationalization why the church teachings don’t apply in support of the baker. My take on this is that the basic principles of the church are a moving target where those principles will be sacrificed and abandoned by the church when challenged by whatever group or ideology. The sad fact is that there are no christian principals that the church leaders believe are worth fighting for. This may be entirely acceptable to many. For those who disagree it will be a serious problem. Perhaps my sense on this is wrong but the steady movement by the church in this direction, as evidenced by the amicus brief, leads me to believe this is not the case.

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