Jack and Religious Freedom Win!

Jack and Religious Freedom Win!

By Tori Black

The June 4th, 2018 Supreme Court ruling in the case of the Masterpiece Cakeshop is welcome news. The heart of the dispute was about a religious business owner’s right to refuse service, not to an individual or minority group, but for an event that conflicted with his sincerely held religious beliefs regarding marriage.

How we who believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman may respond to requests to participate in same-sex weddings, whether as a guest or as a business owner providing a service, is a matter of individual conscience. Some persons of faith may feel, like John Kasich, that the appropriate response is to “make them a cupcake” and “say a prayer for them.” Others feel that doing so is to compromise their religious belief. There is room in this world for both approaches.

However you may personally respond to this issue, we need, as citizens and as a culture, to respect individual conscience and the way it is manifest in our lives and the lives of our neighbors and friends. We are grateful that seven out of nine of the Supreme Court justices confirmed the right of people of faith to live in accordance with their deeply and sincerely held beliefs.

Jack and Religious Freedom Win!

“The decision was narrow in scope, but the implications are not.”

By now you are probably aware that on Monday, June 4, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips the Colorado cake designer who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Jack contended that by baking the cake, he would be violating his religious beliefs.

Although Jack’s victory was not narrow (7-2 majority), there are many legal pundits who claim the ruling is narrow in its scope because it leaves open the larger question of whether other business operators, on the basis of religious convictions, can refuse services to gay couples. (herehere and here).

Some insights from the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the author of the majority opinion, makes it clear the Colorado Civil Rights Commission overstepped its bounds:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical — something insubstantial and even insincere. . . . This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s antidiscrimination law — a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.

Justice Kennedy also makes it clear the Colorado Civil Rights Commission abdicated their role as a neutral arbitrator by allowing some bakers to decline to bake cakes with messages they deemed offense, while punishing Jack Phillips for doing the same:

On at least three other occasions the Civil Rights Division considered the refusal of bakers to create cakes with images that conveyed disapproval of same-sex marriage, along with religious text. Each time, the Division found that the baker acted lawfully in refusing service. It made these determinations because, in the words of the Division, the requested cake included “wording and images [the baker] deemed derogatory.”

Justice Kennedy continues:

A principled rationale for the difference in treatment of these two instances cannot be based on the government’s own assessment of offensiveness. Just as “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion,” West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 642 (1943), it is not, as the Court has repeatedly held, the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive. . . . The Colorado court’s attempt to account for the difference in treatment elevates one view of what is offensive over another and itself sends a signal of official disapproval of Phillips’ religious beliefs.

One might refer to this important ruling as promoting a “fairness to all” doctrine.

An interesting drama played out in this Supreme Court case 

You may remember that Justice Kennedy also authored the majority opinion in the Obergefell decision – the ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the U.S. Justice Kennedy went on record regarding his intent to treat religious adherent fairly, stating “those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

Justice Kennedy continued:

The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. (Obergefell Decision)

Many legal scholars and religious freedom advocates wondered if Justice Kennedy would be true to his words from the Obergefell decision. It appears he meant it.

“The decision was narrow in scope, but the implications are not.”

Such were the words of Bob Spiel (Chairman of the Board for UFI) upon receiving news of the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling. In spite of the fact there is much ambiguity in the ruling and much analysis as to its implication yet to come, there are two outcomes from this ruling we feel confident in stating:

  1. A strong rebuke and a warning have been sent to every government and Human Rights entity in the country to: Tread lightly; your anti-religious bigotry has not gone unnoticed and it won’t be tolerated.
  2. A broader message has been released into the culture, as a whole, reminding citizens: An individual’s religious beliefs matter and they should be receiving equal respect in public accommodation issues and in the public square.

We hope we are right about the potential cultural shift and express gratitude for this major step forward in protecting religious freedom. Congratulations, Jack!

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