US Supreme Court rules in favour of bakery that refused to serve gay couple
The US Supreme Court has ruled that a state violated ‘religious freedom’ protections by ordering a bakery to cease discriminating against same-sex couples.
The court ruled 7-2 in favour of Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop.
Bakery owner Jack Phillips had launched a legal challenge to state anti-discrimination laws after refusing to serve gay couple David Mullins and Charlie Craig.
The baker refused to make a cake for the couple after he found out they were celebrating their wedding.
Phillips claimed that Jesus Christ would discriminate against gay people, and insists his religion requires discrimination against gay people.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) had ordered him to “cease and desist from discriminating against same-sex couples by refusing to sell them wedding cakes or any product [they] would sell to heterosexual couples.”
The US Supreme Court today (June 4) issued a ruling overturning that order. The narrow opinion largely shies away from setting a wider precedent of what discrimination is permissible in the name of religious freedom, though it did find that the actions of the CCRC were discriminatory.
LGBT rights groups have voiced concern at the decision.
The justices ruled that the CCRC “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.”
The majority opinion led by Chief Justice Kennedy states: “The Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality.
“The reason and motive for the baker’s refusal were based on his sincere religious beliefs and convictions.”
Kennedy added: “When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.
“It is proper to hold that… the Commission’s actions here violated the Free Exercise Clause; and its order must be set aside.”
The justices avoided setting a wider precadent in favour of religiously-enabled discrimination, however, finding that gay people were entitled to equal protection under the law.
They added: “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.”
They added: “The judgment of the Colorado Court of Appeals is reversed.”
Pro-LGBT law firm Lambda Legal lamented: “This 7-2 ruling, while limited, invites discrimination and further efforts to justify withholding service from LGBTQ people. This will encourage all sorts of mischief by well-funded anti-LGBTQ organizations who want to create exceptions to nondiscrimination laws.
“We’re going to see years of needless, hurtful litigation by those seeking to evade responsibility for discriminating against members of our community.
“The Court today has turned its back on longstanding precedent and offered not just encouragement but a roadmap to those who would deny civil rights to LGBTQ people and people living with HIV.
“Religious freedom under our Constitution has always meant the right to believe whatever you wish. NOT to act on your beliefs in ways that harm others.
“SCOTUS has become an accomplice in the right’s strategy to hollow out one of its finest achievements, the right to equal marriage, and create what Justice Ginsberg memorably termed ‘skim milk marriages.’
“We are ready to fight back and make sure this heartbreaking and infuriating decision is understood for what it is: a narrow ruling limited to unique facts that cannot be used to justify discrimination in any other context.
“We will continue to fight in every arena and in every court until LGBTQ people and people living with #HIV have full equality under the law in every aspect of our lives. We deserve no less.”
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented against the ruling.
In a scathing dissent, Ginsburg – known as the court’s most liberal justice – wrote: “I strongly disagree with the Court’s conclusion that Craig and Mullins should lose this case.”
She challenged Kennedy’s assertion that the Commission’s process was discriminatory based on statements at public tribunals criticising Phillips’ viewpoints.
Ginsburg wrote: “Whatever one may think of the statements in historical context, I see no reason why the comments of one or two Commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins.
“The proceedings involved several layers of independent decisionmaking, of which the Commission was but one.”
She concluded: “Sensible application of CADA [Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act] to a refusal to sell any wedding cake to a gay couple should occasion affirmance of the Colorado Court of Appeals’ judgment. I would so rule.”
Trump nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch penned a separate opinion backed by fellow conservative Justice Samuel Alito which supported Kennedy’s ruling – but argued more broadly against LGBT rights protections.
Gorsuch questioned whether Phillips’ actions could be considered discriminatory because he “testified that he would have refused to create a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage for any customer, regardless of his or her sexual orientation.”
Gorsuch claimed: “There’s no indication the bakers actually intended to refuse service because of a customer’s protected characteristic”
He added : “No bureaucratic judgment condemning a sincerely held religious belief as ‘irrational’ or ‘offensive’ will ever survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment.”
LGBT campaigners had warned that the decision could lead to subsequent rulings that may blow a hole in decades of civil rights laws and anti-discrimination protections across the US.
Trump’s Justice Department had delivered oral arguments as part of the baker’s defence, arguing that it has a “substantial interest” in the case to protect “free expression.”
Reaction to the ruling has come in thick and fast.
Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez said: “This case was never just about a wedding cake. It was about all people– no matter who they are – having the right to celebrate their love without facing discrimination. The Democratic Party believes that no individual has a license to discriminate.
“We believe in the dignity of every human being. And we will continue to fight for equality for LGBTQ people in all areas of our society – from housing and health care, to bathrooms and boardrooms, to bakeries and the ballot box.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said: “In today’s narrow ruling against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court acknowledged that LGBTQ people are equal and have a right to live free from the indignity of discrimination.
“Anti-LGBTQ extremists did not win the sweeping ‘license to discriminate’ they have been hoping for – and today’s ruling does not change our nation’s longstanding civil rights laws.
“Yet, the fact remains that LGBTQ people face alarming levels of discrimination all across the country and HRC’s efforts to advance equality are as urgent as ever.
“With LGBTQ people at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services in 31 states, HRC continues to build momentum for the Equality Act, to elect pro-equality candidates up and down the ballot, and fighting in every corner of our country to advance policies that protect LGBTQ people from being targeted for who they are or whom they love.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said: “As a nation, we’ve already rejected the idea that businesses open to the public have a license to discriminate against people because of who they are.
“Colorado law prohibits discrimination based on who you are. We’re confident the courts will once again rule that businesses don’t have a right to discriminate.
“Thank you to Charlie and Dave for your courage. We won’t stop fighting until we ALL have equal treatment under the law.”
Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU said: “The court reversed the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision based on concerns unique to the case but reaffirmed its longstanding rule that states can prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBT people.”
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said: “Though freedom of religion is an American value, discrimination is not. While this decision does not change existing civil rights protections, it leaves the door wide open for religious exemptions to be used against LGBTQ people.
“Today’s decision emboldens the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom and the Trump Administration in their persistent push to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people under the misnomer of religious freedom. LGBTQ people will continuously be vulnerable until the liberty and justice for all tenants of the Constitution apply to all Americans, including LGBTQ people.”
The LGBTQ Victory Institute said: “Today is a sad day for America and especially for LGBTQ youth who have grown up believing in the inevitable move toward fairness and justice for our community. That path toward justice ebbs and flows, and today the Supreme Court led us away from one of the basic tenants of American idealism – that all are treated equally.
“While the Supreme Court made a narrow ruling focused exclusively on a state agency’s treatment of a Colorado baker, opponents of equality will use it to try and open the floodgates. Homophobic forces will purposefully over-interpret the ruling and challenge existing non-discrimination laws by refusing service to LGBTQ people in even more situations – denying them dinner at a restaurant, lodging at a hotel, or renting an apartment.
“State and local civil rights enforcement offices are now on the frontlines in protecting LGBTQ people from widespread discrimination, so it is critical we pressure elected leaders to fully fund these agencies and ensure they have the resources to push back on attempts at discrimination.
“LGBTQ elected officials like Colorado State Rep. Leslie Herod have led efforts to build up state and local enforcement agencies, and now we need all elected officials who support equality to prioritize these offices given today’s ruling. Our representatives must respond.”
Anti-LGBT law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, a listed anti-LGBT hate group, celebrated the ruling.
It said: “Jack serves all customers; he simply declines to express messages or celebrate events that violate his deeply held beliefs.
“Creative professionals who serve all people should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment.
“Government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society, yet the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage.
“The court was right to condemn that. Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a society like ours. This decision makes clear that the government must respect Jack’s beliefs about marriage.”
The baker Jack Phillips said: “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.”