Some Quick Thoughts on *Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission*

Cake baker

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission will generate a lot of commentary in the next hours and days.  We will try to post some of it here.  As the pundits and legal scholars write their pieces, let’s get started with Robert Barnes’s summary of the case at The Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled for a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.

In an opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that leaves many questions unanswered, the court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not adequately taken into account the religious beliefs of baker Jack Phillips.

In fact, Kennedy said, the commission had been hostile to the baker’s faith, denying him the neutral consideration he deserved. While the justices split in their reasoning, only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Kennedy wrote that the question of when religious beliefs must give way to anti-discrimination laws might be different in future cases. But in this case, he said, Phillips did not get the proper consideration.

“The Court’s precedents make clear that the baker, in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public, might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws,” he wrote. “Still, the delicate question of when the free exercise of his religion must yield to an otherwise valid exercise of state power needed to be determined in an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor in the balance the State sought to reach. That requirement, however, was not met here.”

Read the rest here.

Read the decision here.

The Supreme Court kicked the ball down the road and made a strong statement about respecting sincerely held religious beliefs.

If I read the decision correctly, it seems that the Court ruled in favor of the baker because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission did not respect his First Amendment religious rights.  The Commissioner called baker Jack Phillip’s faith “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”  He compared Phillip’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” to slavery and the Holocaust.  As a result, Justice Kennedy argued in his majority opinion: “the Court cannot avoid the conclusion that these statements cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication of Phillips’ case.”

In other words, the Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner crossed a line.  The Court is a sending a message that these sloppy attacks on sincerely held religious beliefs will not be tolerated.  If you think Phillips should be legally required to bake the cake for the gay couple, take your frustrations out on the Colorado Commission, not on the Supreme Court.

The decision also implies that another cake-baking case might be decided differently.  Kennedy writes:

Phillips was entitled to a neutral decisionmaker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided.  In this case the adjudication concerned a context that may well be different going forward in the respects noted above.  However later cases raising these or similar concerns are resolved in the future, for these reasons the rulings of the Commission and of the state court that enforced the Commission’s order must be invalidated.

The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

 

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