Image Credits: AP Photo / Brennan Linsley
Religious freedom and association is back in the spotlight, this time all over a wedding cake. At the end of their term in June, the Supreme Court, now back to a full nine justices, decided that they will hear the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This will be a very important case to watch, so it is crucial that we stay informed. With a hot button case like this, there will be a lot of misinformation on both sides. The case is being argued before the supreme court on December 5th, 2017, so now is the perfect time to be informed.
First off, it’s crucial to know what exactly to expect from the court going forward. Nothing has truly been decided on the case by SCOTUS yet. Instead, what did happen in late June, was that the petition was granted. That means that SCOTUS will hear the case. Many, many cases try to get before the Supreme Court every year, but they are only nine men and women. They can only hear so many cases, so the ones they choose to hear are usually understood to be of importance. If you’ve paid attention to the news in the last few years, you’ve no doubt heard of numerous cases about Christian bakers of florists or dressmakers who have not wanted to be involved in same-sex wedding ceremonies and have found themselves at the end of discrimination lawsuits. When SCOTUS issues their decision on Masterpiece v Colorado Civil Rights Commission, it will likely be the final word on the issue going forward. Either that freedom exists for business owners or it is discrimination. The nine men and women in black will decide.
Now, let’s take a look at the central issues in this case. Here are the fast facts:
Jack Phillips is a cake artist at Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado who declined to make a custom cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony in 2012.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission said that this was sexual orientation discrimination and violated a state law.
The Colorado Court of Appeals found that this ruling did not violate any Free Speech of Free Exercise clauses
This ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals stood in direct conflict with decisions reached by other circuit courts.
As detailed in the petition, the question at hand in this case is “whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel Phillips to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.”
There is a good, healthy debate happening over this case that will likely continue. Is cake decorating protected under the First Amendment? Can religious freedom become discrimination? Are different forms of discrimination treated differently? For example, would it still be freedom of expression if Phillips refused to make a cake for an interracial wedding? Those are some of the questions that legal experts are grappling with as this case goes forward.
There were some great pieces written when this petition was granted, especially one by David French of National Review, which you can find here, and Jess Brevin, of the Wall Street Journal, which you can find here. As with any case in the news, you want to do your research, read the actual case files, and come to your own conclusions from the facts. However, it can often be very helpful to understand the arguments that others are making to better form your own.