In a big win for religious liberty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on Monday that a Christian baker cannot be forced to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony.
Although some observers said the ruling was a “narrow” victory, there was much in the majority opinion and concurring opinions that strongly made the case for religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
“This significant decision will have a wide impact regarding the clash between free speech and the LGBT agenda, including laws that add ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity,’” stated Liberty Counsel, which filed a friend of the court brief in the case.
The only dissent came from liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a former ACLU attorney, joined by Sonia Sotomayor. Both had officiated at same-sex weddings prior to the Court’s hearing the Obergefell case in 2014 in which the Court struck down state marriage laws and legalized same-sex marriage. Their refusal to recuse themselves from the case is still cited by many who consider the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling illegitimate.
The majority and concurring opinions in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission clearly outline the problem of growing hostility toward Christians who decline to celebrate the concept of same-sex unions.
In 2012, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in a suburb of Denver, had refused to bake a wedding cake for Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig, who promptly complained to the state civil rights commission. Mr. Phillips offered to sell them other bakery products but drew the line at a wedding cake because of its expressive speech content. He said it violated his devoutly Christian faith, which he said animates everything he does, including how he runs his business.
The state commission sided against Mr. Phillips, citing Colorado’s public accommodation law prohibiting businesses from refusing service to anyone based on religion, race, sexual orientation and national origin. Their ruling was upheld by an appeals court before landing on the docket of the Supreme Court, which heard arguments on Dec. 5, 2017.
In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the commission had expressed hostility toward Mr. Phillips’ religious viewpoint.
One commissioner said that religious freedom had been cited to “justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”
“The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the opinion.
Mr. Kennedy also noted the commission had applied a double standard in a similar but opposite case. Some bakers had refused to bake cakes for a Christian customer who wanted messages on them critical of same-sex weddings and homosexuality, and the commission upheld the right of the bakers not to violate their consciences. Those cakes would have featured Bible verses that the commission found “offensive.”
In a concurring opinion, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that, “In this country, the place of secular officials isn’t to sit in judgment of religious beliefs but only to protect their free exercise.”
Mr. Phillips was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which specializes in religious liberty litigation. The U.S. Justice Department under President Trump filed a brief in support of Mr. Phillips.
This is definitely a triumph for religious liberty, but a caveat needs to be said before Christians celebrate too much.
Justice Kennedy, who wrote all the previous pro-homosexual Supreme Court rulings up to and including Obergefell, noted that the Masterpiece case originated in 2012, before same-sex “marriage” had been legalized in Colorado. He also noted that it was before the Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, followed by the Obergefell ruling in 2014 legalizing same-sex “marriage” throughout the country.
He noted that a future case involving freedom of religion versus gay rights may occur in “a context that may well be different going forward in the respects noted above.”
Translation: Now that same-sex “marriage” is fully legalized, the courts could revisit whether Christian-owned businesses could legally decline to provide services for same-sex ceremonies.
For now, this is a victory for Christians, for religious liberty, for freedom of conscience and for respecting the First Amendment’s protections.
It’s a victory for the idea that the United States Constitution means what it says about rights that cannot be abridged by the government.
A writer for Timothy Partners, Ltd. He is a regular weekly columnist for The Washington Times and Townhall.com and is frequently published by AmericanThinker.com, DailyCaller.com, OneNewsNow.com, and others. He has authored the following books: “A Strong Constitution: What Would America Look Like If We Followed the Law” (D. James Kennedy Ministries, 2018), Invested with Purpose: The Birth of the Biblically-Responsible Investment Movement, and A Nation Worth Fighting For: 10 Steps to Restore Freedom.