Liberty and the free market are two-way streets. It is easy to think of these as having the ability to do something, but at the same time, it also means having the ability to tell others no.
This could have been the case in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission which the Supreme Court of the United States decided this week, but the Court stopped short of preserving a business owners’ ability to decline.
The Court stopped short of preserving a business owners’ ability to decline.
The issue in the now-notorious wedding cake case arose when, in July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins requested Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, bake a cake for their wedding. The owner, Jack Phillips (seen above in the photo speaking about the case late last year), declined their business, stating same-sex marriages are against his religious beliefs.
The couple decided to file discrimination charges with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which says businesses engaged in any sales or services to the public may not discriminate based on sexual orientation.
The case went to an administrative law judge who ruled the baker had violated the law and that decision was upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Commission ordered Phillips to cease and desist the discrimination, and required additional remedial measures, including comprehensive staff training on the Public Accommodations section of CADA and quarterly compliance reports for two years. Those compliance reports were required to document how many patrons were denied service, why they were denied service, and a statement regarding the remedial actions taken.
Ultimately, the case wound up in front of the thickest robes in the United States. In a decision announced today, the Court voted 7 to 2 the Commission’s actions violated the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Phillips claimed his artistic talents which he used to create elaborate wedding cakes was a way he could honor God.
The Free Exercise Clause refers to the section of the First Amendment italicized here: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” Phillips claimed his artistic talents which he used to create elaborate wedding cakes was a way he could honor God, and because his religious beliefs did not support same-sex marriage, he would not make cakes for those weddings.
In the opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, the court ruled the law as applied to compel the baker to make a cake that violated his sincerely held religious beliefs was violative of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
However, this ruling does not mean everyone in Colorado may begin denying service to whomever they choose.
The Court’s opinion notes Phillips’ counsel conceded if a baker or other person refused to sell any goods for same-sex weddings, that would be a different matter, and the “State would have a strong case under this Court’s precedents that this would be a denial of goods and services that went beyond any protected rights of a baker who offers goods and services to the general public … ” The issue argued and decided here is far narrower.
Phillips argued using his artistic skills to make an expressive statement such as a wedding cake constituted his endorsement of the wedding. Because of his religious beliefs, he felt he could not endorse the union between the couple, and refused to make the wedding cake, though Phillips said he would sell them baked goods for any other events which the couple may have.
The opinion here hinges on the fact that Phillips’ claim that his cakes are an artistic and religious statement, meaning other business owners who choose to deny service for similar reasons could probably not get away with it regarding the sale of normal manufactured goods or services.
The Court also noted a clear hostility against Phillips’ beliefs from the Commission, which severly harmed the State’s case.
The Court also noted a clear hostility against Phillips’ beliefs from the Commission, which severely harmed the State’s case.
One commissioner stated, “And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to – to use their religion to hurt others.” Justice Kennedy latched onto that commissioner’s words and stated they disparaged Phillips’ religion in at least two ways: “by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere.” Kennedy also noted the commissioner even compared Phillips’ beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust – all over a cake.
Furthermore, the Colorado Civil Rights Division had, on at least three other occasions, considered the refusal of bakers to create cakes with images of disapproval of same-sex marriage, along with religious text. Those bakers were found to have acted lawfully in refusing service. This disparate treatment of Phillips led the Court to hold the Commission “violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.”
I do not agree with Phillips’ stance on same-sex marriage, but I do agree in his right to believe the way he does and to decline business for clients he does not want.
As for the Commission, the government should only view marriage as a contract, and the religious aspect to marriage should be handled by the various denominations and the people getting married. However, no person or denomination should be forced to accept the marriage of anyone except upon their own decision.
No business owner should be forced to sell goods or services to anyone they choose.
Moreover, no business owner should be forced to sell goods or services to anyone they choose. An articulable reason should not even be required from the government to decline business. This is how the free market should work, as a business owner should be free to enjoy the fruits of their decisions and to also suffer the consequences.
Bringing Phillips to court over this issue was merely just getting the government to punish him and his business, rather than the couple doing it themselves. Word of mouth has always been a powerful tool of the free market, and it has been exponentially expanded by online reviews with groups such as Google and Yelp. Rather than making the government control someone’s business by force, people should be empowered to take matters into their own hands by writing a review or telling others how they were treated and helping the other businesses whose owners believe differently.