In mid-2012, a gay couple visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado hoping to procure a wedding cake. Masterpiece Cakeshop’s owner, Jack Phillips, asserted that due to the fact that gay marriage went contrary to his religious beliefs, he would not be willing to bake and present this couple with a cake of their preferred design (Roth, 2018). Moreover, he added that they could purchase any ready-made cake that appealed to them in his store. The gay couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, made the decision to file a suit against Masterpiece Cakeshop for breaching Colorado’s regulation for anti-discrimination which stipulates that business organizations may not discriminate against potential consumers on the basis of religion, marital status, race, disability, gender, ancestry, or sexual orientation (Williams, 2018). According to Roth (2018), the Colorado Civil Rights Division determined that Mullins and Craig had cause to believe that Masterpiece Cakeshop’s owner Jack Phillips had violated this regulation, and so they forwarded the case to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. From the Commission, the case was then referred to an administrative law judge who ruled in favor of the gay couple.
Jack Phillips then decided to challenge the Commission’s ruling by approaching Colorado’s Court of Appeals. Moreover, the Appeals Court supported the ruling that had been issued by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (Berg, 2018). It was then that Masterpiece Cakeshop appealed directly to the US Supreme Court. This petition was accepted, and the Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case was heard in December 2017 (Ruzzi, 2019). Six months later, on June 4, the US Supreme Court officially reversed the ruling that had been issued by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In this ruling, Justice Kennedy of the US Supreme Court noted that Jack Phillip’s Masterpiece Cakeshop had not been provided with respectful and unbiased consideration in the course of the Colorado proceedings. Justice Kennedy further added that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission breached the US Constitution’s First Amendment, which stipulates that courts should not be antagonistic towards religious perspectives in their rulings (Movsesian, 2019).
Social and Political Effects of the US Supreme Court’s Decision
The US Supreme Court deliberately focused on the fact that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission breached Jack Phillip’s rights- as provided by the first amendment- by antagonizing his beliefs in its ruling. It did not, however, address the more controversial subject concerning gay rights vis-à-vis the rights of business owners in the bakery industry. According to Berg (2018), the questions that should have been answered in the US Supreme Court’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case include:
As the US Supreme Court only mentioned the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s refusal to operate as an impartial arbiter in its decision to overturn the latter’s ruling, the question of free speech and the rights of business operators against protected groups will have to be individually addressed in future on a case by case basis.
Social Consequences of the US Supreme Court’s Decision
There are specific ways that the final ruling will guide future cases of similar litigation, though. In the first place, the US Supreme Court’s decision underlines the fact that the First Amendment is to be protected in all circumstances. It means that every US citizen, regardless of whether he or she is considered to be part of a protected group, is guaranteed the right to practice his or her preferred religion, as well as engage in free speech. Consequently, non-discrimination regulation will always be balanced against the provisions of the first amendment in order to ensure that all peoples’ rights, regardless of which groups they belong to or do not belong to, are protected. It is a fact that the right to religious freedom, particularly where practicing Christians are concerned, has been denigrated for some time now. The US Supreme Court ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case re-affirms the need to balance the rights of all people in such cases. Socially, this could result in religious business owners like Jack Phillips receiving increased support from business owners who feel that the emphasis on the needs of protected groups is beginning to compel the local and federal governments to mandate how they will run their businesses.
This decision promoted the making of compromises by both parties in the case for the purpose of finding a better way forward. In his ruling, Justice Kennedy noted that Jack Phillips did not refuse to sell a cake to the gay couple, but only declined to bake a cake with images and words that would be in keeping with the couple’s demands. It could, therefore, be said that the US Supreme Court’s ruling wanted to defend the First Amendment rights of all parties in this case while also creating an environment that would leave bakery owners with the right to determine how they would use symbolic expressions in their creations. The Supreme Court’s ruling could, in future, encourage increased open discussions about this subject, without the angry refrains that have been so common in past discussions on the subject.
Another effect of the US Supreme Court’s ruling has to do with defending the First Amendment rights of citizens who hold unpopular opinions against the biased rulings of over-zealous civil rights commissioners in state courts (Movsesian, 2019). The ruling is a precedent and will serve – in future- as the example which proves that state courts will not be able to extend First Amendment protections to gay customers while concurrently denying religious citizens the right to the same protections.
In the past, there have been cases that have been based on litigation in similar circumstances as Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. There was a case in 2018 where the State of New Jersey sued townships for refusing to permit the construction of an eruv– which refers to a fence that surrounds observant Jews who conduct operations outside after Sabbath (Banco, 2017). This case was settled with the decision by both parties in the case to support an ordinance that outlaws the building of the proposed eruv.
There was also a couple in Oregon that was confronted with the same problem in 2013 that Jack Phillips experienced in 2018. Unlike Jack Phillips, however, Oregon citizens Aaron and Melissa Klein lost their case and were forced to close down their bakery in 2013. This happened after the then Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry Commissioner Brad Avakian forced them to pay approximately $135,000 to a gay couple after refusing to bake and design a cake that would be for the celebration of a same-sex wedding (Klein & Klein, 2018).
The US Supreme Court ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case helped to determine what will, henceforth, be considered as adequate evidence of discrimination against any individual’s beliefs. In the recent past, President Donald Trump has faced litigation after endorsing the plan to ban immigrants who hail from majority-Muslim nations from relocating to the US. The ruling of the US Supreme Court in the seminal case provides precedence for courts to use politicians’ declarations or regulations, such as those made by President Trump, as proof of their religious intolerance.
In the Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, the US Supreme Court’s ruling did not introduce new laws regarding the protection of the rights of protected groups or business owners. Rather, the court’s ruling merely corrected the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s bias in its treatment and consideration of Jack Phillips. Moreover, the Supreme Court’s emphasis that First Amendment protections be extended to religious business owners may serve to challenge popular opinion on respecting the rights of Christian business owners. The final ruling also stresses on the importance of impartial tribunals or arbitrators being selected to judge similar cases in future.
Banco, E. (October 29 2017). Three North Jersey towns face lawsuits over alleged Orthodox Jewish
discrimination. Nj.com. Retrieved from https://www.nj.com/news/2017/10/three_north_jersey_towns_face_lawsuits_over_alleged_orthodox_jewish_discrimination.html
Berg, T. C. (2018). Masterpiece Cakeshop: A Romer for religious objectors? Cato Supreme
Court Review, 139-170. Retrieved from https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/supreme-court-review/2018/9/2018-cato-supreme-court-review-6.pdf
Klein, M. (2019, June 19). Oregon forced us to close our cake shop. Here’s what the
Masterpiece decision means for us.
The Daily Signal. Retrieved from https://www.dailysignal.com/2018/06/19/oregon-forced-us-to-close-our-cake-shop-heres-what-the-masterpiece-decision-means-for-us/
Movsesian, M. L. (2019). Masterpiece Cakeshop and the future of religious freedom. CSAS
Working Paper 19-09. Retrieved from https://administrativestate.gmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2019/03/Movsesian-Working-Paper-19-09.pdf
Roth, D. (2018). Do bakers have to bake cakes for same-sex weddings? Faculty Work
Comprehensive List. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/dd1d/da50692fd2a3e7ee2a02edb2fcece4597c91.pdf
Ruzzi, E. (2019). More than just a cake: Masterpiece CakeShop and the future of civil rights.
Williams, L. (2018). Is one greater than fourteen? : The Christian right, freedom of religion,
and Masterpiece Cakeshop. The University of Connecticut. Retrieved from https://opencommons.uconn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1587&context=srhonors_theses
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