The Supreme Court will hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, one of its most contentious cases, on Tuesday. At issue is whether or not the state of Colorado violated baker Jack Phillips’s First Amendment rights by compelling him to bake a cake for a gay wedding.
The five-year-old legal battle between Phillips and Colorado began in 2012, when Phillips refused to make a cake for couple David Mullins and Charlie Craig. Instead, he offered to sell them baked goods. In court documents, Phillips says he “gladly serves people from all walks of life, including individuals of all races, faiths, and sexual orientations. But he cannot design custom cakes that express ideas or celebrate events at odds with his religious beliefs.”
The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission which found that Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination law, prohibiting public businesses from discriminating on the basis of gender, ancestry, race, and sexual orientation. Phillips appealed that decision, but the ruling was upheld by the state Court of Appeals.
In what’s bound to be a major religious liberties case, the Supreme Court must decide whether or not Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws infringe on the First Amendment rights of business owners. Essentially, the Supreme Court must decide if Phillips is allowed to refuse service to LGBTQ clients because of his religious beliefs. Phillips’s lawyers describe him as a “cake artist” who will not “create cakes celebrating any marriage that is contrary to his understanding of biblical teaching.” In accordance with those beliefs, Phillips will not make Halloween cakes, “Anti-American” cakes, or cakes featuring profanity. Central to Phillips’s argument is that Colorado’s laws amount to the state compelling speech.
SCOTUS Blog notes that Masterpiece “has a number of allies,” including the Trump administration “which filed a brief supporting the bakery.” As SCOTUS Blog notes, the federal government agrees with Phillips, affirming the argument that Colorado’s law “compels expressive conduct that conveys a message to others, without allowing Phillips to make clear that he does not share his customers’ viewpoints on same-sex marriage.” Colorado, as well as Mullins and Craig, contend that the state has a compelling interest in mandating non-discrimination laws in business, in order to protect its citizens and its ability to regulate all transactions within the state.
Numerous states have had similar conflicts and the Supreme Court’s decision could have serious implications, allowing a broad base of business owners to refuse service to customers simply by citing their religious belief system.