WASHINGTON — While not completely solving the issue at large, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who was at the center of a case involving his right to decline to decorate cakes for events such as same-sex celebrations when doing so would violate his religious convictions, finding that he was wrongfully subjected to hostility by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because of his faith.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, appointed to the bench by then-President Ronald Reagan, wrote the majority opinion, concluding that the Commission was “neither tolerant nor respectful of [the baker’s] religious beliefs.”
“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 Phillips’ 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,” he wrote.
“The Commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion. Phillips was entitled to a neutral decisionmaker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided,” Kennedy outlined.
He, however, did not go further into the merits of the case—the specifics as to the rights of business owners, but said that the issue would need to play out as time passes. Kennedy suggested that the courts need to strike a balance between religious conviction and the rights of those who identify as homosexual, not infringing upon either.
“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, 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,” he wrote.
Read the 7-2 ruling in full here. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the lone dissenters.
As previously reported, the case began in 2012 when Dave Mullin and Charlie Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado to look for options for their upcoming same-sex ceremony celebration. As Colorado—at the time—had a constitutional amendment enshrining marriage as being between a man and a woman, the men planned to travel to Massachusetts and then return to Colorado for a separate celebration.
However, after their arrival at the cake shop, Mullin and Craig were advised by owner Jack Phillips that he does not make cakes for same-sex ceremonies.
“My first comment was, ‘We’re getting married,’ and he just shut that down immediately,” Craig stated.
Phillips told Christian News Network that he does not make cakes for such events because of his Christian convictions.
“I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, and I believe that the relationship is not something that He looks favorably on,” the master pastry chef stated. “If Jesus was a carpenter, He wouldn’t make a bed for this union.”
However, Phillips says that it is not just same-sex celebrations that he declines. He also doesn’t create custom baked goods for bachelor parties or Halloween events, and remarked in a recent video that sometimes in a day he will turn down more requests than he accepts.
Phillips, who attends a Baptist church, said that when he informed Mullin and Craig that his bakery does not make cakes for same-sex “weddings,” the men immediately left. He stated that one of them made a comment on his way out the door that the bakery was a “homophobic cake shop.”
Phillips said that he told the men that he would be happy to make them any other type of baked goods outside of having to facilitate the ceremony, which he believed was a form of personal participation. But Mullin and Craig complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and have prevailed in their case ever since.
In December 2013, Judge Robert Spencer sided with the ACLU, contending that Phillips should have made the cake because he was not told that there would be any words or symbols written on it.
“Phillips was not asked to apply any message or symbol to the cake, or to construct the cake in any fashion that could be reasonably understood as advocating same-sex marriage,” he wrote. “The act of preparing a cake is simply not ‘speech’ warranting First Amendment protection.”
In May 2014, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission upheld Spencer’s ruling, stating that Phillips violated the state’s civil rights law. The Commission then ordered that Phillips educate his staff in alignment with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, to implement new policies in light of the ruling, and to file quarterly compliance reports for two years. The reports were to outline each pastry creation request that was declined and the reason why to prove that Phillips’ religious beliefs no longer influence his business decisions.
Phillips filed an appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court’s rulings in August 2015, asserting that providing the cake for the ceremony does not equal an endorsement of same-sex nuptials.
“Nothing in the record supports the conclusion that a reasonable observer would interpret Masterpiece’s providing a wedding cake for a same-sex couple as an endorsement of same-sex marriage rather than a reflection of its desire to conduct business in accordance with Colorado’s public accommodations law,” the court ruled.
The matter was appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case last year. Therefore, Phillips took his case to the nation’s highest court, which agreed in June to be the arbiter of the issue.
Phillips expressed relief over the decision on Monday, remarking in a statement, “It’s hard to believe that the government punished me for operating my business consistent with my beliefs about marriage. That isn’t freedom or tolerance. I’m so thankful to the U.S. Supreme Court for this ruling.”
Editor’s Note: There has been confusion among some as to why reports from various outlets refer to the ruling as “narrow.” “Narrow” refers to the chosen scope of the ruling, and not the fact that the decision was 7-2. The justices did not explicitly reach whether or not people of faith may decline to create goods for same-sex celebrations, but rather simply noted that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission must be neutral toward religion in applying the law. In writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy outlined that “[t]he outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts” with “tolerance” to both sides of the issue.