On Monday religious believers’ rights were confirmed in a big way by the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Seven out of the nine justices on the Court vindicated Christian cake baker, Jack Phillips’, right to live out his faith in his business. The Court was tasked with deciding whether Colorado could force a business owner to make a product and support a message that he disagreed with based upon his religious belief. The Court based their ruling on the fact that the specific cake baker in question did not get a fair hearing because of the hostility the government showed to his religious beliefs throughout the proceedings.
The ruling yesterday is very good news. The ability of all Americans to live out their religious beliefs was strongly reinforced. Regarding Jack, the Court ruled that the government was wrong to punish him for living consistently with his sincerely held religious beliefs. Nationally, the decision recognized the inherent tension between religious beliefs and the sexual revolution, legitimizing the concerns of religious believers across the country about the growing hostility against any belief concerning God’s design for marriage.
There are several positive things to take away from the decision, and a few hints about challenges that remain.
The Court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission unconstitutionally violated the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution because it showed clear hostility towards Jack’s religious beliefs and applied state law unfairly. The Court noted that the Commission showed their hostility against religion in two ways. Their hostility was shown in their abusive and dismissive language when discussing Jack’s beliefs. Secondly, the Commission showed hostility by applying Colorado anti-discrimination law differently in different cases based upon whether it believed the claim in question was valid.
First, in his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy rebuked the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that adjudicated Jack’s case for comparing his religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust, calling such rhetoric “clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.” Sadly, this sort of rhetoric is regularly used to characterize advocates of religious freedom. This language has been used to describe defenders of religious freedom in Idaho repeatedly over the last several years. We reject these repulsive comparisons and we are extremely pleased that the Supreme Court has our back. In Jack’s case, the court ruled that “religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and, in some instances, protected forms of expression.”
Second, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of business owners to bring their religion with them to work. Justice Kennedy rejected the Commissions’ view “that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain”.
Third, Justice Kennedy reminded us that the government doesn’t get to protect only the conscience rights it agrees with. His opinion criticizes the different treatment Jack received before the Commission compared to treatment of other bakers who declined to create cakes with messages to which they objected, including those with anti-gay marriage messages. In a concurring opinion, Justice Gorsuch exposed this inconsistency, stating, “the Commission allowed three other bakers to refuse a customer’s request that would have required them to violate their secular commitments. Yet it denied the same accommodation to Mr. Phillips [Jack] when he refused a customer’s request that would have required him to violate his religious beliefs.”
The Supreme Court was never meant to be the determiner of all issues of conflict. Issues where reasonable people disagree were intended to be worked out in the legislative branches, particularly in the state legislatures. The Court’s decision in Masterpiece just cements the need for the state legislatures to do their job and legislate. The Idaho legislature has taken many steps to preserve the fundamental right to religious freedom and conscience, like enacting a RFRA in 2000.
Other avenues that the Idaho legislators could take in the coming legislative session to further protect religious believers is to pass an Adoption Protection Act like was just passed by Kansas and Oklahoma or a Government Nondiscrimination Act.
We must also take seriously the threat to our freedoms posed by so-called “anti-discrimination” ordinances and unelected, bureaucratic entities like Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission. We must continually fight against measures like “add the words” in our state so that we don’t find ourselves in a situation like Colorado where a run away commission is allowed to attack religious believers with antidiscrimination statutes.
Rest assured, Family Policy Alliance of Idaho will not grow weary in our defense of your right to live and work in line with your faith. It is important that you talk with those in your sphere of influence and explain to them the importance of the Supreme Court’s ruling and its effect on their lives. Encourage your legislators to pass bills that will strengthen your religious freedom. Continue to support Family Policy of Idaho in our ongoing fight to ensure that all people have the right to do business in Idaho and have the freedom to believe.
Interim Policy Director of Family Policy of Idaho