The most anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision of the year was released on Monday. The case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) involved Jack Phillips, a faithful Christian, who was charged with violating Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act for politely declining to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The Court’s answer to the legal question at the heart of the case—whether Colorado could force a business owner to make a product expressing a message that violated the business owner’s religious beliefs—might have been the most significant opinion in a generation. Instead, in a 7-2 opinion, the Court punted on that fundamental question and decided the case on other grounds—that, Jack, the cake baker in question, did not get a fair hearing before the CCRC.
While this result isn’t the sweeping affirmation of a business owner’s right to religious freedom we hoped for, it is still very good news. Jack won the case and the Court opined that the government was wrong to punish him for living consistent with his sincerely held religious beliefs.
There are several positive things to take away from the decision, and a few hints about challenges that remain.
The Court held that the CCRC unconstitutionally violated Jack’s constitutional right to freely exercise his beliefs when they (1) demonstrated clear hostility to Jack’s religious beliefs and (2) applied state law unfairly. The Court noted that the CCRC was openly hostile toward religion in their abusive and dismissive language when discussing Jack’s beliefs. Further, they applied Colorado’s anti-discrimination law differently in different cases, using their own subjective opinion to determine whether the claim in question was valid.
First, in his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy rebuked the CCRC 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. We reject these repulsive comparisons and we are extremely pleased that the U.S. 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 Court affirmed the right of business owners to bring their religion with them to work. Justice Kennedy included the CCRC view “that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain” among the elements of a “clear and impermissible hostility” towards Jack’s faith.
Third, Justice Kennedy reminded us that the government doesn’t get to protect only the conscience rights it agrees with. His opinion directly criticized the different treatment Jack received before the CCRC when compared to the treatment of other bakers who declined to create cakes with messages to which they objected, including cakes 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.”
Where do we go from here?
Although this case represents a victory for Jack and people of all faiths, the Court left significant questions unanswered. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy suggested that future challenges are not only likely, but that the outcome of such cases could very well be different. Consequently, we believe this case has set the table for state’s to take action and enact clear religious freedom protections for all their citizens.
Moving forward, New Mexico must take the necessary steps to preserve our fundamental right to religious freedom and conscience. We must also take seriously the threat to our freedoms posed by so-called “anti-discrimination” ordinances; by unelected, bureaucratic entities like Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission; and by the courts.
Let’s not forget what happened locally in 2006 when the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Christian photographer, Elaine Huguenin, who respectfully turned down a request to photograph a same-sex wedding. In a concurring opinion, former-Justice Richard Bosson acknowledged that the New Mexico Supreme Court was compelling Elaine and her husband to “compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” Even so, Justice Bosson infamously went on to state that this was the “price of citizenship” in New Mexico.
Thankfully, on Monday, 7 of the 9 U.S. Supreme Court Justices disagreed.
Rest assured, Family Policy Alliance of New Mexico will not grow weary in our defense of your right to live and work in accordance with your faith. However, to be successful, we need you to PRAY, VOTE, SPEAK UP, and GIVE.
- We need you to PRAY for our ministry and that God will raise up godly men and women to lead our state.
- We need you to VOTE this November for pro-religious freedom candidates who will help us strengthen the law to protect people of all faiths, including business owners like Jack and Elaine.
- We need you to SPEAK UP and voice your support for religious freedom legislation when it comes before the New Mexico Legislature.
- And we need you to GIVE to help support our efforts to mobilize people of faith, train leaders, and represent your values in Santa Fe and throughout the state. So, if you are not already supporting us financially, can we count on you to send a gift today? If so, please click here and help us make a difference in New Mexico.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support!
President and Executive Director