On Monday, June 4, 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued its much anticipated decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case involves Christian baker, Jack Phillips, who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. In 2012, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins went into Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, Colorado to order a cake for their upcoming wedding and reception. Phillips claimed he couldn’t make them a wedding cake because doing so was contrary to his religious beliefs.
The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Commission and the Court of Appeals rejected Phillips’ freedom of religion defense and found he had violated the state’s antidiscrimination laws. Phillips appealed.
The Supreme Court found in favor of the baker, but based its decision on the narrow facts of this case—namely that the Civil Rights Commission’s decision against Phillips had to be overturned, because the Commission showed hostility toward Phillips’ religious beliefs.
The ruling does not set forth a broad standard for these types of “civil rights versus First Amendment religious freedom” cases. Rather the Court held only that the First Amendment requires neutrality when the government considers religious freedom claims. Because the Commission appeared hostile towards Phillips’ religious beliefs, its ruling had to be overturned.
It remains to be seen how the states will apply the legal principles set forth in this case. While some advocacy groups acknowledge that the narrow application in Masterpiece does not provide a legal basis for business owners to discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation, others feel the decision may encourage it.
Some believe this may prompt Christian advocacy groups to file numerous follow-up cases, in an effort to extend Masterpiece Cakeshop to florists, photographers, wedding halls, and other similar businesses. Although we will have to take a “wait and see” approach, it may not be long before we have another, similar case in front of the Supreme Court.
Effective Date: June 4, 2018