Masterpiece Cakeshop Prevails at the Supreme Court

Colorado cannot force Jack Phillips to bake the cake if he doesn’t want to.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled 7-2 that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission overstepped its bounds and violated the Masterpiece Cakeshop owner’s First Amendment rights. Read the opinion here (PDF).

“The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the court.

“While it is unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” Kennedy added.

Justice Thomas wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined.

Notre Dame’s Philip Muñoz wrote about the case for American Greatness in December:

The case embodies the clash between two fundamentally different conceptions of human equality and two corresponding notions of what we owe to one another as equals. To fully grasp the competing visions of equality, we must understand their implications and the moral obligations they suggest. Understanding this deep debate over equality allows us not only to grasp the free speech and free exercise aspects of the case but also reveals the looming threat to liberty and limited government before us.

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert who co-authored an amicus brief against Jack Phillips’ First Amendment claim, says the decision leaves most of the big questions unresolved:

Do bakers have a First Amendment right to refuse to bake cakes for same-sex weddings, even if there’s a state law banning sexual orientation discrimination by such businesses?

Do they have a First Amendment right to refuse to bake such cakes that contain text or symbolism (e.g., rainbow striping) that the bakers disapprove of?

How about wedding photographers or videographers, who create products that (unlike most cakes) are traditionally seen as speech? How about calligraphers or graphic designers, who have an objection to personally writing or typing certain messages?

The Supreme Court’s 7-to-2 Masterpiece Cakeshop decision answers none of these questions (not even the first, which seemed to be most squarely raised on the facts of this case).

Steve Hayward at PowerLine notes the main focus of today’s majority opinion is “the rank politicization” of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. “Still, whatever is left unresolved as a legal rule going forward,” Hayward writes, “it is clear that these state advocacy agencies are on formal notice from the Supreme Court to conceal their anti-religious bigotry.”

Watch the front page for in-depth commentary on the decision this week.

About Ben Boychuk

Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. He is a former weekly syndicated columnist with Tribune Media, and a veteran of several publications, including City Journal, Investor's Business Daily, and the Claremont Review of Books. He lives in California.

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