A case to be heard before the US Supreme Court this week pits two fundamental laws of the country against each: the right to religious freedom and the right to be not discriminated.
Oral arguments in the case Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission will be heard this week in a Supreme Court appeal that is challenging a landmark state high court decision.
The case primarily involves the refusal by a Colorado baker to provide a custom cake for a gay couple.
The Case Details
- Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Christian “cake artist,” was approached by a gay couple to create a custom cake for their wedding
- Phillips told them that he would sell them any other baked goods from his store but would not provide them with a wedding cake
- According to Phillips, baking them a wedding cake was tantamount to him participating in a religious ceremony that he objected to as he was against same sex marriage
- The couple lodged a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission alleging that he was discriminating against them on basis of sexual orientation
- The commission as well as state courts found that Philips had violated the anti-discrimination laws of Colorado.
The state is one of the 22 in US which bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Phillips subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that the state’s anti-discrimination law was violating his right to religious freedom as well as freedom of expression, as covered under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Clash Of Gay Rights And Christian Faith
Stephen Wermiel a professor of constitutional law at the American University Washington College of Law noted that the case “pits two values against one another.”
For Phillips, the cake is a form of expression and his argument is that baking the couple a cake would mean that he would be forced to express views that he doesn’t agree with. He would be forced to “endorse same-sex marriage against his own views” which violates his freedom of expression.
Mastershop’s supporters which includes the Trump administration point out that the First Amendment bars the government from compelling individuals to participate in religious ceremonies that they object to.
But Civil rights organizations stated that personal or religious beliefs cannot be the basis for violating the Constitution’s promise of offering equal protection in the eyes of law.
According to the state and other supporting parties, the baker has the right to object to same-sex marriage but doesn’t have a right to discriminate. They state that the case is not about religious freedom but about the discrimination laws.
Case Similar to Anti-Segregation Issue
Wermiel noted that the briefs in part raise parallels between the case and the earlier period of discrimination prevalent in the United States.
The segregationists of 1950s era were convinced that the religion and God supported their point of view. Their belief was that God had intended a separation of the races, and so they had “a religious right to continue to segregate. “
The courts at that point of time rejected these arguments and stated that the Congress had a right to enact “a public accommodation law” that required businesses to not discriminate on the basis of race or other such characteristics.
Wermiel highlighted that the case was similarly raising “some pretty profound issues” that have been faced by the country for some decades now.