When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission found that Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, had discriminated against a gay couple by refusing them a wedding cake, it had shown ‘clear hostility’ towards Christian business owners.
That’s the verdict of the US Supreme Court which has just overturned a ruling by the Colorado state court which found that Phillips’ decision to turn away David Mullins and Charlie Craig in 2012 was unlawful discrimination.
The Supreme Court’s majority opinion (7-2) said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had been biased against Phillips. It said the commission had shown “clear hostility” and implied religious beliefs “are less than fully welcome in Colorado’s business community”.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that while Colorado law “can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services … the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion”.
The opinion cited the following comment from a Colorado commissioner during a public hearing:
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. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to use their religion to hurt others.
Such language, the Supreme Court said, was disparaging of Phillips’ religious beliefs and inappropriate for a commission charged with:
Fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law – a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.
When Phillips’ bigotry first plunged him into a legal battle that he claimed could ruin him financially, a funding page was established to raise $200,000. To date it has managed to raise 48 percent of that target.
The funding page says this of Phillips:
He is truly an artist turned cake designer, where his canvas is cake and his paint, icing.
Jack is also a born-again Christian. In fact, it would be more correct to say that he is a follower of Christ first, and cake artist second.
His ability, talent, and business come directly from his Creator, and he desires to glorify God in everything he does.
His deep conviction to honor God first in everything informs his decision to not make cakes with messages that promote: Halloween, anti-American or anti-family themes, atheism, racism, or indecency, and more.
Gay rights groups feared a ruling against the couple could set a precedent for treating gay marriages differently to heterosexual unions. But the Supreme Court’s verdict instead focuses specifically on Phillips’ case.
The decision does not state that florists, photographers, or other services can now refuse to work with gay couples.
Colorado is one of 22 states that includes sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination law, which allowed Craig and Mullins to win their case.
Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the two dissenting votes.
Justice Ginsburg wrote:
Phillips would not sell to Craig and Mullins, for no reason other than their sexual orientation, a cake of the kind he regularly sold to others. What matters is that Phillips would not provide a good or service to a same-sex couple that he would provide to a hetereosexual couple.
Justice Ginsburg did not agree with the finding that the Commission acted unfairly.
She cited “several layers of independent decision-making of which the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was but one” in the state case.
Hat tip: AgentCormac and BarrieJohn