Oct 30, 2017

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, joined by six civil-rights and religious organizations, today filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm that a Colorado bakery does not have a religious-freedom right to refuse to serve same-sex couples in violation of the state’s antidiscrimination laws.

“Religious freedom is about fairness. We don’t treat people differently because their beliefs are different from ours,” said Richard B. Katskee, legal director of Americans United. “The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the Constitution does not allow businesses to use religious beliefs as an excuse to treat some people like second-class citizens. We urge the justices to stand once again on the right side of history and advance the court’s noble tradition of ensuring equality for all Americans.

“Masterpiece Cakeshop seeks to turn America’s antidiscrimination laws upside down. We are fighting for the Constitution’s fundamental promise of fairness and equality,” said Katskee. “Allowing businesses to use religious beliefs as a justification to refuse to serve customers would corrupt the principle of religious freedom and open a Pandora’s box of discrimination.”

The case concerns a bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, whose owner, Jack Phillips, insists that his religious beliefs give him a right to violate antidiscrimination laws and refuse service to LGBTQ couples. Americans United explains that a ruling in favor of Phillips would create a wide-ranging license for other businesses to use religion as a means to discriminate against people, undermining our nation’s civil-rights laws.

Americans United’s brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was joined by the Anti-Defamation League, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Fairness West Virginia, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, the National Council of Jewish Women and People For the American Way Foundation.

The allies urge the Supreme Court to affirm the opinion of the Colorado court that held that the bakery has no right to violate antidiscrimination laws, which is what the bakery did when it refused to bake a cake for the wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012.

If businesses are granted a constitutional license to violate antidiscrimination laws, observes the brief, then any person “could be refused employment, thrown out of a hotel, or barred from purchasing a cup of coffee just for being of the ‘wrong’ religion (or race, or sex, or sexual orientation), and no federal, state, or local authority or law could do anything to remedy the situation.”

The brief says that result would “be the antithesis of religious freedom.”

The brief was authored by Katskee and Americans United Legal Fellows Kelly M. Percival and Claire L. Hillan. It was filed through AU’s Protect Thy Neighbor campaign, which seeks to stop religion-based discrimination against LGBTQ people, women and others.