Supreme Court Hands Victory to Christian Baker

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  June 4, 2018   

Jack Phillips' religious freedom violated for being forced to bake wedding cake for gay couple

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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a highly anticipated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Christian baker penalized for refusing, on grounds of religion, to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.

In a 7–2 ruling Monday, the High Court ruled that Jack Phillips' First Amendment right to religious freedom was violated when the Colorado Civil Rights Commission fined him for refusing to bake a cake for David Mullins and Charlie Craig in 2012. The couple filed a complaint with the Commission, which found that Phillips had discriminated against them based on their sexual orientation. 

"The commission's hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment's guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion," J. Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, adding that the Commission "showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating" Phillips.


 

Joining the majority opinion were two consistently liberal justices: Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. Notable is Kagan's decision to join in the opinion, as she has officiated at a same-sex wedding for former law clerks, and is credibly thought to be a lesbian.

Anthony detailed the anti-Christian animus evidenced by the Colorado agency:

As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the Commission's formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips' faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. No commissioners objected to the comments. Nor were they mentioned in the later state-court ruling or disavowed in the briefs filed here. The comments thus cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission's adjudication of Phillips' case. 

The opinion also noted the uneven application of the Commission's rulings, as it had decided in favor of other individuals with similar objections, while ruling against Phillips.

"The government, consistent with the Constitution's guarantee of free exercise, cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices," the opinion continued.

Justice Neil Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion, joined by J. Samuel Alito. "[T]he only reason the Commission seemed to supply for its discrimination was that it found Mr. Phillips's religious beliefs 'offensive,'" the concurrence noted. "That kind of judgmental dismissal of a sincerely held religious belief is, of course, antithetical to the First Amendment and cannot begin to satisfy strict scrutiny." 

Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg — a longtime abortion advocate who has officiated at several same-sex weddings — wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by J. Sonia Sotomayor, arguing that the Commission was correct in penalizing Phillips for refusing to bake the cake for the gay couple.

The decision is expected to have wide-reaching ramifications for similar cases around the country involving Christians who have objected to being forced to provide services for gay weddings.

 

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