Resources: Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
Yesterday afternoon, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who in 2012 refused to make a wedding cake for gay couple Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins due to his religious beliefs.
While both the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and a state Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled in favor of Craig and Mullins, the Supreme Court claimed that the Commission’s treatment toward Phillips’ religious beliefs during the trial “[casted] doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication of Phillips’ case,” thus reversing the Commission and ALJ’s decisions.
The Court ruled this as a narrow decision, meaning that the ruling is not intended to broadly apply to all businesses that wish to use their religious beliefs as justification for limiting who they serve and in what capacity; rather, the ruling is meant to only address the Commission’s treatment of Phillips in this case specifically.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s decision is being widely celebrated as a largely influential win by anti-LGBTQ organizations, such as Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization that represented Phillips and has a long history of demonizing and fighting against the rights of LGBTQ people internationally.
Though the ruling does not necessarily reverse protections for LGBTQ people (and, if anything, stayed far away from stating one way or another whether Phillips was illegally discriminating against Craig and Mullins), many progressive organizations are being realistic about the dangerous implications of the Court’s decision.
We have compiled a brief list of articles below to help you gain a better understanding of the case, what this ruling means, and how it will impact our fight for justice.
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Supreme Court Case File
“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration with the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
American Civil Liberties Union
“The court did not accept arguments that would have turned back the clock on equality by making our basic civil rights protections unenforceable, but reversed this case based on concerns specific to the facts here.”
Case summary and updates, legal documents, and additional resources:
". . . the Court decided the case . . . on the narrowest grounds imaginable—that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission during its consideration of the case had shown anti-religious bias. The result was a decision that provides almost no guidance for lower courts facing similar cases. 'In this case,' Kennedy wrote, 'the adjudication concerned a context that may well be different going forward.' Thus, 'the outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts.'"
“The Court today has offered dangerous encouragement to those who would deny civil rights to LGBT people and people living with HIV. Religious freedom under our Constitution has always meant the right to believe whatever you wish but not to act on your beliefs in ways that harm others. The Court today alarmingly fails to heed that distinction. Lambda Legal will continue to fight the establishment of evangelical Christianity as the official government religion. We will fiercely resist the coming effort that will seek to turn this ruling into a broad license to discriminate.”
“Today, the Court did not foreclose LGBTQ people from suing under anti-discrimination laws. But it did open the door for ADF to use one of its favored tropes—that the government is hostile to religion—to continue to chip away at those protections. And there is really no telling how that will turn out.”
National Center for Lesbian Rights
“Today’s decision leaves intact the longstanding principle that states can require businesses open to the public to serve everyone, even when some businesses believe that doing so violates their religious beliefs.”
National Center for Transgender Equality
“BREAKING: In a 7-2 ruling, SCOTUS issued a narrow decision on the unique circumstances of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. While THIS baker won THIS case, the ruling does NOT give businesses a broad license to discriminate. By punting on the issue, however, the Court leaves an opening that anti-LGBTQ groups will ruthlessly exploit to promote discrimination. We’ll continue working for transgender equality and resist any attempt to create a license to discriminate.”
National LGBTQ Task Force
"While this limited ruling addressed only the actions of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the National LGBTQ Task Force is both concerned that the Court’s action will lead to future cases that may weaken the rights of LGBTQ people. Yet, we also find solace in the fact that in Justice Kennedy’s ruling he reminded everyone that religious objections alone do not grant a right to deny services to others."