June 2024 Church & State Magazine - June 2024

AU and allies tell Calif. court to reject religion-based discrimination


Figurines, depicting a gay wedding or Civil Partnership, on top of a wedding cake, narrow focus on the head.

No discrimination: AU and allies oppose faith-based bias (Getty Images)

Americans United, joined by four religious freedom and civil rights organizations, is urging a California appeals court to rule that Cathy’s Creations, a Bakersfield bakery, does not have a religious freedom right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.

In an amicus brief filed in April in the case Civil Rights Department v. Cathy’s Creations, Americans United and allies explained that the state’s anti-discrimination law requiring businesses to treat customers equally does not violate constitutional religious freedom protections. The brief explains that the 1959 Unruh Act protects not only LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, but also religious minorities and customers with other protected characteristics, such as race, sex, age and ability.

“In America, everyone should have equal access to goods and services, regardless of who they love, who they are, how they worship, or what they look like,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Our Constitution’s promise of church-state separation means that religious freedom cannot be turned into a license to discriminate.”

Laser added, “Christian Nationalists are trying to drag this country back to the days when people from marginalized communities were forced to go door to door because businesses displayed signs like ‘No Jews, No Blacks, No Irish.’ Decades ago, we as a society agreed that when a business decides to open its doors to the public, it must be open to all. If religious extremists are successful in getting the courts to allow religiously motivated discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, that license to discriminate could harm other vulnerable communities, too.

“We need a national recommitment to the separation of church and state if we’re to save our democracy and ensure freedom without favor and equality without exception under the law,” she concluded.

Organizations joining AU’s brief include Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice; Global Justice Institute; Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; and Sikh Coalition. The brief was authored by AU Litigation Counsel Bradley Girard and AU Legal Fellow Jenny Samuels.

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