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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 8, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 23
SCOTUS rules for anti-Gay baker
Section One
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SCOTUS rules for anti-Gay baker

Decision is terrible or fine depending on what you read

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The US Supreme Court issued an equivocal ruling on June 4 in the case of Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a Colorado baker claimed a religious exemption from the state's civil rights laws.

The case arose when Charlie Craig and David Mullins visited Jack Phillips' bakery to order a wedding cake. Phillips turned them away, claiming his religious beliefs would not permit him to endorse a same-sex wedding - even to the minimal extent of providing a cake for the reception.

Craig and Mullins then filed a complaint with Colorado's Civil Rights Commission charging Phillips with violating the state's public accommodations laws by denying them service because of their sexual orientation.

The commission found that the bakery had, in fact, discriminated against the couple in violation of Colorado law, a decision the Colorado courts upheld. Phillips appealed to the US Supreme Court, alleging that his First Amendment free speech and freedom of religion rights had been violated.

In a 7-2 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips' First Amendment rights, but it stopped short of saying that LGBT equality must take second place to religious freedom.

'The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights,' Kennedy wrote in his decision, but he added, 'religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views, and in some instances protected forms of expression...

'While it is unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other member of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.'

According to Kennedy, a single statement by a single Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner was evidence that the commission was hostile to Phillips' religion, and that he was, therefore, entitled to legal relief.

'Freedom of religion, and religion, has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust,' the commissioner said. 'And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to use their religion to hurt others.'

Kennedy said such language was inappropriate for a commission charged with 'fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado's anti-discrimination law - a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.'

What does the decision mean for LGBT rights?
Because Kennedy's decision attempted to split the difference between religious liberty and LGBT rights, reactions from human rights groups were mixed.

The ACLU, which represented Craig and Mullins, noted that 'the court reversed the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision based on concerns unique to the case but reaffirmed its long-standing rule that states can prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBT people.'

On the whole, ACLU said, 'the Supreme Court today reaffirmed the core principle that businesses open to the public must be open to all...The court did not accept arguments that would have turned back the clock on equality by making our basic civil rights protections unenforceable but reversed this case based on concerns specific to the facts here.'

Lambda Legal, on the other hand, criticized the ruling.

'The Court today has offered dangerous encouragement to those who would deny civil rights to LGBT people and people living with HIV,' Lambda Legal said in a statement.

'Religious freedom under our Constitution has always meant the right to believe whatever you wish but not to act on your beliefs in ways that harm others. The Court today alarmingly fails to heed that distinction.

'Lambda Legal will continue to fight the establishment of evangelical Christianity as the official government religion. We will fiercely resist the coming effort that will seek to turn this ruling into a broad license to discriminate.'

Pride at Work, a labor group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, saw both good and bad in Kennedy's ruling.

'While I don't agree with the entire ruling issued today by the Supreme Court, I'm heartened that the Court upheld the basic rights of states to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination,' said Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride at Work. 'LGBTQ people should not have to worry if they will face discrimination by businesses open to the public, and while this case may muddy the waters a bit, the fundamentals of state laws designed to protect LGBTQ people remain intact.'

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent
Only Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor voted to sustain the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg wrote that she 'strongly disagree[d]' with the Court's decision.

'Phillips would not sell to Craig and Mullins, for no reason other than their sexual orientation, a cake of the kind he regularly sold to others,' she wrote.

'What matters is that Phillips would not provide a good or service to a same-sex couple that he would provide to a heterosexual couple.'

Justice Ginsburg added that she did not agree with the finding that the Commission acted unfairly, citing 'several layers of independent decision-making of which the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was but one' in the original case.

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