Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Last modified 2017.06.12


  • Status Closed
  • Type Amicus
  • Court State Court, U.S. Supreme Court
  • Issues Discrimination by Businesses, Discrimination in Name of Religion, Government-Supported Religion, LGBTQ Rights

Charlie Craig and David Mullins were planning their wedding reception and went to Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, Colorado, to order their wedding cake. The bakery turned them away, citing its owners’ religious beliefs as the reason for refusing to serve the couple. The couple then filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission under the state’s public-accommodations law, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (among other protected characteristics).

The state commission determined that there was a violation, and an administrative law judge agreed. The shop owner appealed that ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals, arguing that, given his religious beliefs, enforcing the public-accommodations law against him would violate his free-speech and free-exercise rights.

Religious freedom is about fairness. It is not fair for businesses to treat customers as second-class citizens based on whom they love. And so, in February 2015, Americans United filed an amicus curiae brief in the Colorado Court of Appeals in support of the same-sex couple. Our brief argued that the First Amendment does not allow businesses to violate civil-rights laws, even if the discrimination is motivated by religion.

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the bakery doesn’t have a religious freedom right to ignore the state public-accommodations law. After the Colorado Supreme Court denied review, the bakery asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, and in June 2017, the Court agreed to do so.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. For many, finding a partner and getting married are also fundamental parts of the American dream. Our country can and should deliver both.

Americans United filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court in October 2017. Our brief argued that the Free Exercise Clause does not create a right to violate antidiscrimination laws; that granting the religious exemption would violate the Establishment Clause; and that the religious exemption would erode the integrity of antidiscrimination laws across the country, also putting religious minorities (among other protected classes) at risk. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. For many, finding a partner and getting married are also fundamental parts of the American dream. Our country can and should deliver both.

On June 4, 2018, in a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled in favor of the bakery on narrow grounds. The Court held that there was evidence of hostility toward religion on the part of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, principally because a member of the commission had, at a hearing, made a statement about the misuse of religious claims to justify discrimination historically, and because the commission had allowed three other bakeries to decline to bake cakes with anti-LGBT messages.

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