June 12, 2018
While it is wonderful that the Supreme Court gave Jack Phillips long-overdue justice in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado, the battle for religious liberty is far from over. The Court only held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s obvious bias against Phillips violated his right to a neutral decision maker. This means that future cases could undermine religious liberty so long as the decision makers appear neutral. What we need is a decision or a law that explicitly protects business owners like Jack Phillips, or better still, a repeal of misguided laws passed under the guise of “antidiscrimination.”
Jack Phillips runs Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, and in 2012, he refused to create a cake for the wedding of a same-sex couple. The couple complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, who sent the case to an Administrative Law Judge, who in turn found that Phillips had broken Colorado’s civil rights laws. The Supreme Court held that the Commission had violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment due to their blatant anti-faith bias.
The Commission brusquely dismissed Phillips’ arguments that his faith precluded him from endorsing a same-sex wedding without thoughtfully addressing their substance or nuance. One commission member went so far as to compare Phillips’ arguments for religious liberty to those of slave owners and people complicit in the Holocaust. In addition, the Commission granted exemptions to bakers who refused to bake cakes with Bible verses opposing homosexual behavior, holding that this was not unlawful discrimination. The Court held that the flagrant anti-faith bias shown in the Commission’s comments and decision-making invalidated its judgment in Phillips’ case, because the First Amendment requires the government to remain neutral on religious issues.
While it is good that the Court rebuked this blatant abuse of power, this decision does not bode well for future religious liberty cases. The Court merely held that someone like Phillips has the right to a hearing before a neutral decision maker, and if this occurs, outcomes in such cases “may well be different going forward.”
This means that the next case could go poorly for a Christian business owner, provided that the deciding body maintains a pretense of neutrality. If a court or commission can restrain themselves enough to avoid comparing ordinary Christians to slave-owners and Nazis, and then finds that their freedom of conscience subjects “gay persons to indignities,” (which is vague and subjective enough to mean just about anything), they could easily punish someone for refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding through cake or floral design, photography, or other creative service. This is poor precedent, as it leaves Christian businesses vulnerable to biased decisions by courts and commissions sly enough to conceal their prejudice when they apply laws such as Colorado’s.
Since a court that appears neutral could easily use these “antidiscrimination” laws to punish Christians who follow their conscience, religious freedom rights must be clarified in the context of these laws. Better yet, given the constant abuse of laws like Colorado’s to target anyone who disagrees with the politically correct orthodoxy, it would make sense to repeal them and avoid the problem entirely.
Jack Phillips received well-deserved relief in this case, and there is now clear precedent against open bias on the part of courts and commissions in similar instances. However, there is still an enormous risk that decision makers will simply stay quiet about their anti-Christian biases and continue to produce biased and skewed decisions based on current “antidiscrimination” laws. This means that we need to either craft protections in the context of these laws or repeal them outright.
Andrew Rock is a law student and an intern at Family Research Council.