Article Jun 4, 2018

Top quotes from the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court win

Today, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case centered on a Colorado baker named Jack Phillips who was punished for refusing to create a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony because of his sincerely held religious beliefs on marriage.

The Court’s decision is an clear reaffirmation that government must give “neutral and respectful consideration” in weighing the rights of business owners who make religious claims. The decision should also be viewed positively by people of all faiths as a reinforcement of the importance and value of religious freedom more broadly.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer, Alito, Kagan, and Gorsuch. Justice Gorsuch and Justice Thomas each wrote concurring opinions. Justice Ginsburg, who was joined by Justice Sotomayor, gave a dissenting opinion. Below are key quotes from these opinions highlighting how the Supreme Court reached its decision. Page numbers from the Court’s decision are given for each quote, but legal citations are omitted for clarity of reading.

Majority Opinion | authored by Justice Kennedy

“The free speech aspect of this case is difficult, for few persons who have seen a beautiful wedding cake might have thought of its creation as an exercise of protected speech. This is an instructive example, however, of the proposition that the application of constitutional freedoms in new contexts can deepen our understanding of their meaning.” (2)

“[T]he religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.  As this Court observed in Obergefell v. Hodges, ‘[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”’ (9)

“When it comes to weddings, it can be assumed that a member of the clergy who objects to gay marriage on moral and religious grounds could not be compelled to perform the ceremony without denial of his or her right to the free exercise of religion. This refusal would be well understood in our constitutional order as an exercise of religion, an exercise that gay persons could recognize and accept without serious diminishment to their own dignity and worth.” (10)

“The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here, however. The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.” (12)

“To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere.” (14)

“Just as ‘no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion,’ it is not, as the Court has repeatedly held, the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive.” (16)

“The Colorado court’s attempt to account for the difference in treatment elevates one view of what is offensive over another and itself sends a signal of official disapproval of Phillips’ religious beliefs.” (16)

“The Free Exercise Clause bars even ‘subtle departures from neutrality’ on matters of religion. Here, that means the Commission was obliged under the Free Exercise Clause to proceed in a manner neutral toward and tolerant of Phillips’ religious beliefs. The Constitution ‘commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures.’” (17)

“It must be concluded that the State’s interest could have been weighed against Phillips’ sincere religious objections in a way consistent with the requisite religious neutrality that must be strictly observed. The official expressions of hostility to religion in some of the commissioners’ comments—comments that were not disavowed at the Commission or by the State at any point in the proceedings that led to affirmance of the order—were inconsistent with what the Free Exercise Clause requires. The Commission’s disparate consideration of Phillips’ case compared to the cases of the other bakers suggests the same. For these reasons, the order must be set aside.” (17)

“The Commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion. Phillips was entitled to a neutral decisionmaker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided.” (18)

Concurring Opinion | authored by Justice Gorsuch

“The Constitution protects not just popular religious exercises from the condemnation of civil authorities. It protects them all.” (2)

“But it is also true that no bureaucratic judgment condemning a sincerely held religious belief as ‘irrational’ or ‘offensive’ will ever survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment.” (7)

“In this country, the place of secular officials isn’t to sit in judgment of religious beliefs, but only to protect their free exercise.” (7)

“It is in protecting unpopular religious beliefs that we prove this country’s commitment to serving as a refuge for religious freedom.” (7)

“It is no more appropriate for the United States Supreme Court to tell Mr. Phillips that a wedding cake is just like any other—without regard to the religious significance his faith may attach to it—than it would be for the Court to suggest that for all persons sacramental bread is just bread or a kippah is just a cap.” (12)    

Concurring Opinion | authored by Justice Thomas

“If an average person walked into a room and saw a white, multi-tiered cake, he would immediately know that he had stumbled upon a wedding. The cake is ‘so standardised and inevitable a part of getting married that few ever think to question it.”’ (6)

“Accordingly, Phillips’ creation of custom wedding cakes is expressive. The use of his artistic talents to create a well-recognized symbol that celebrates the beginning of a marriage clearly communicates a message.” (7)

“States cannot punish protected speech because some group finds it offensive, hurtful, stigmatic, unreasonable, or undignified.” (12)

“Because the Court’s decision vindicates Phillips’ right to free exercise, it seems that religious liberty has lived to fight another day. But, in future cases, the free­dom of speech could be essential to preventing Obergefell from being used to ‘stamp out every vestige of dissent’ and ‘vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.’” (14)

Dissenting Opinion | authored by Justice Ginsburg

“Phillips declined to make a cake he found offensive where the offensiveness of the product was determined solely by the identity of the customer requesting it.” (6)

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