Religious Right Groups Are Very Interested In The Colo. Bakery Case Pending Before The Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for December 5 in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission – an important case that will have significant implications for religious freedom.

We’ve talked about the importance of this case quite a bit. Here’s a refresher: A Colorado state court said that a suburban bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law – which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – when it refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding reception. The court ruled that neither the bakery nor its owner had a religious-freedom right to violate the law. Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that religious freedom is not an excuse to discriminate against others.

The baker, Jack Phillips, asked the Colorado Supreme Court to hear the case, but it declined. His attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom – a legal group that often defends people who want to discriminate in the name of religion – then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the matter. 

We hope the high court agrees with Americans United that religious freedom is about fairness. Religious freedom does not mean people get to ignore anti-discrimination laws. Phillips wants to treat LGBTQ people like second-class citizens because his beliefs are different than theirs, and that’s just not right.

Some people wrongly think otherwise. For example, several speakers at the recent Values Voter Summit argued that Phillips has the right to deny service to LGBTQ people in the name of religion. 

A business cannot use religion as an excuse to discriminate.

This year’s Summit featured multiple mentions of the Masterpiece case accompanied by anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. As my colleague Liz Hayes observed on Monday: “While it was exhausting to listen to folks spew hate against women, the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, the media, people seeking racial justice, progressives and so many others for two solid days, none of their views were surprising.”

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), who was among the more prominent speakers who brought up Masterpiece, said that she hopes the Supreme Court allows Phillips and others like him to use religion as an excuse to deny service to others.

“This is a tremendously important case, and as there are others, ordinary people trying to live out their faith according to the constitutional rights of the first amendment and being told by their government that they have to behave a certain way,” Hartzler said. “Now if our government can’t force people to do things against their deeply held religious beliefs, where are we as a country? So this is imperative that we pray for this court decision... we continue to fight this and stand up for our beliefs.”

Don’t let his rhetoric fool you. Requiring the bakery to follow Colorado’s non-discrimination laws doesn’t violate Phillips’ rights. Phillips is entitled to hold his religious beliefs as much as he is entitled to speak about those beliefs. But he is not entitled to deny services to LGBTQ people because of those beliefs. That’s discrimination, plain and simple. And religious freedom has no place for discrimination.

That’s why we’re hoping the Supreme Court will reach the same conclusion in Masterpiece as the lower courts: A business cannot use religion as an excuse to discriminate. We will be filing a brief urging the justices to say just that.

To learn more about how we fight against discrimination in the name of religion, check out our Protect Thy Neighbor project.