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Decisive Victory for Religious Freedom at the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Anti-religious liberty forces lost at the U.S. Supreme Court today in the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who sought to live his life in accordance with his faith and so refused to provide a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex wedding (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission). This is why you will hear a lot of talk in the media of a narrow decision with little precedential impact. Some aim to downplay what is an important victory for freedom and religious liberty with the Court ruling 7-2 in favor of protecting the baker’s First Amendment constitutional rights.

The Court wrote, “[R]eligious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that. It is notable for the Court to recognize that there are actually philosophical reasons, not just religious ones, to oppose same-sex marriage. Regardless, all are protected views under the First Amendment.

In this case, the Court recognized that, “To Phillips, his claim that using his artistic skills to make an expressive statement, a wedding endorsement in his own voice and of his own creation, has a significant First Amendment speech component and implicates his deep and sincere religious beliefs.” It is precisely against that religious point of view that this law was aimed in practice.  The Court highlighted that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission found, “on at least three occasions that a baker acted lawfully in declining to create cakes with decorations that demeaned gay persons or gay marriages.”

This is the sort of viewpoint discrimination that we are seeing applied all over the country in different contexts, where only a liberal point of view that not only approves but celebrates same-sex unions is acceptable. Having a differing belief is increasingly punishable under threat of law. 

It wasn’t hard, therefore, for the Court to find, “elements of clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs …” in this case. Those who scream about tolerance in many instances are not working to eradicate intolerance but simply to move the target to people they deem worthy of it. As noted pro-LGBTQ Megadonor Tim Gill has said, they want to, “punish the wicked.”

This radical element of the pro-LGBTQ movement wants to use the full force of government to eradicate any trace of opposition to the “gay lifestyle,” including religious beliefs. This is, of course, most intolerant. And it should be fully rejected, as the Supreme Court has done here, as we seek to learn how to live in peace and harmony after the Obergefell same-sex marriage decision.

It is alarming, and we are glad the Supreme Court acknowledges as much in this case, that so many in our society regard religious beliefs as merely a cover for discrimination. Nothing could be further from the truth. A desire to be faithful to God is all the motivation there is, though many simply can’t comprehend that and refuse to accept it. The Court noted how some civil rights commissioners in Colorado characterized Jack Phillips claim as “merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.” That hideous claim is all too common and completely false. We are glad the highest court in the land is putting an end to the defamatory statements, at least in the context of our constitutional jurisprudence. 

“[T]he Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint,” the Court properly concluded. In fact, the justices correctly make clear that, “government has no role in deciding or even suggesting whether the religious ground for Phillips’ conscience-based objection is legitimate or illegitimate.”

On the issue of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights, many are pushing for government and the courts to presume illegitimacy when it comes to religious beliefs.  This is dangerous and a clear violation of the First Amendment. We should all be encouraged that a considerable majority of the Court has made it clear they are unwilling to follow along.

We can only hope the Court’s clear pronouncement helps inform our cultural engagement so that we can learn to live and debate and disagree vehemently with each other, without resulting to demeaning and hateful rhetoric and accusations that only damage our public discourse and offer no real progress.

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