Category archives: Religious Liberty

Update on California’s AB 2943: Therapy Ban Assaulting Freedom of Speech and Religion Passes Senate

by Peter Sprigg

August 17, 2018

Here are some quick facts on the most recent action regarding California’s alarming bill, AB 2943, with links to sources:

  • The California Senate just passed AB 2943 on August 16.
  • AB 2943 is Round Two of California’s attack upon sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).
  • AB 2943 is so sweeping it could potentially ban the sale of some books—even the Bible.
  • Therapy bans restrict what therapists can say to clients. The Supreme Court has signaled that this violates constitutional rights to free speech.
  • Ironically, AB 2943 was passed even as a new study has debunked claims that SOCE is ineffective and harmful
  • Most clients who seek SOCE just want to live their lives according to the teachings of their faith, so bills like AB 2943 are an attack upon their freedom of religion.
  • The Assembly or Gov. Brown have a last chance to block enactment of AB 2943. Urge them to do so now.

CNN Publishes a Hatchet Job on Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber

August 10, 2018

Following the announcement of the Department of Justice Religious Liberty Task Force, CNN decided to post a recent piece that horribly mischaracterized what Christians believe about religious freedom. Whatever accuracy the piece contained was drowned out by glaring falsehoods—assertions and conclusions which are not only untrue, but which have now been released into the public discourse to further sow divisiveness and animosity.

Take this statement, for example: “[Sessions] also portrayed religious liberty as the right of religious groups not to be labeled as hate groups even if their beliefs prescribed hate.”

The author didn’t cite a Bible verse or theological position for “hate” because she can’t—it’s not there. So she just claims (falsely) that Christians’ beliefs “prescribe”—or instruct us to engage in—“hate” (whatever that means). In the process, she defended the Southern Poverty Law Center’s arbitrary “hate” list which Sessions was referring to—a hate list on which SPLC unilaterally labels and places FRC and other groups because we hold to unpopular truths about human sexuality, and a list which led to a gunman entering my organization’s headquarters several years ago with a plan to commit mass murder, wounding a security guard in the process. (FRC maintains no such lists of any of our opponents.)

One need only crack the pages of the Bible for a moment to see how false the CNN piece is about Christianity: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

Our faith leads us to love all people, which means conveying the truth. They may not like that truth, but their response does not mean we are not acting out of love.

For CNN to relay such falsehoods about Christians only serves to toxify the public square. Those commenting on the religious beliefs of others—like this author—need to get their facts right. If there is one thing Jesus “prescribes,” it is love. The cost of failing to accurately describe the religious beliefs of others is further mistrust and social deterioration. Unfortunately, this piece squarely contributes to that.

As a Christian organization, we not only aim to convey the truth out of love, but we believe no one should be compelled to act against their conscience in matters of faith. All people must be free to choose—or not choose—God. Therefore, we desire to protect religious freedom for all people (regardless of their faith), and applaud Attorney General Sessions’ efforts to protect Hindus and Muslims, for example. As mentioned during the Task Force announcement, the Sessions DOJ recently prosecuted an individual “who set fire to a mosque”—a fact which the CNN op-ed author conveniently left out of her discussion of how the Sessions DOJ approaches religious freedom. 

It is long overdue for CNN and other “mainstream” media to start discussing religious freedom in good faith, examining the facts and applying a dose of honesty with regard to what Christians actually believe about this issue. This would go a long way toward achieving the constructive dialogue necessary to heal our divided nation.

DOJ Announces Timely Religious Liberty Initiative

by Travis Weber

July 31, 2018

Speaking at the Department of Justice yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “Religious Liberty Task Force” to ensure the DOJ fully implements President Trump’s Religious Liberty Executive Order from May 4, 2017, and the follow-on DOJ religious liberty guidance issued on October 6, 2017.

The task force will ensure that the October 6 guidance fully affects all DOJ policy, such as what cases are taken, what arguments are made in court, and how DOJ personnel conduct themselves. Dialogue between DOJ and religious groups will remain ongoing, and DOJ employees will be trained in “their duties to accommodate people of faith.”

This is a welcome announcement, and further indicates the priority given to religious liberty by the Trump administration and his Department of Justice. 

Sessions’ opening remarks were encouraging. He discussed the cases of religious objectors such as the Little Sisters of the Poor (subjected to a legal battle to not be coerced into providing contraception against their consciences), and baker Jack Phillips (who didn’t want to create a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding), mentioning Jack’s recent vindication in the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision and DOJ’s decision to file an amicus brief on his behalf. The Attorney General also mentioned he was filing a brief defending the ministerial housing allowance in an ongoing case, and discussed his department’s work to defend churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship. Discussing the increasingly hostile social climate, Sessions criticized the anti-religious remarks certain senators made during recent judicial confirmation hearings, and tacitly but clearly noted the Southern Poverty Law Center’s toxic approach to public discourse:

We have gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law; where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit; and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a “hate group” on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs. (emphasis mine)

Next, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville argued eloquently for religious liberty, noting it is derived from and must be protected consistent with human dignity. Kurtz cited the example of faith-based adoption providers, who are buttressing already-strained government foster and adoption care systems, being targeted for living out their belief that children need a mother and a father. As an example of the contributions of such groups, he mentioned an organization named “The Call” which places up to half of all adopted children in Arkansas into families. Such religious organizations do their work quietly and resolutely day after day, and many are not even aware of the value they contribute to the common good. This is real public service, and these organizations must remain free to operate according to their beliefs. 

Other panelists at the event, including the Heritage Foundation’s Emilie Kao, addressed the religious liberty threat of governmental authorities enforcing their own sexual orthodoxy on religious believers. Professor Michael McConnell of Stanford Law School (formerly a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit) discussed oft-used arguments that religious liberty can’t be tolerated when it causes “harm” to “third parties.” As Judge McConnell noted, however, there is always someone else who is affected by the protection of a legal claim to religious liberty—whether a government body, other group, or an individual. This is not a new concept. The fact that the law will always tangibly impact someone, combined with our historic reasons for religious liberty (the necessity of ensuring the government does not get in the way of humans being able to fulfil the responsibilities they owe to God), is the very reason the Founders put the First Amendment in the Constitution to begin with!

Introducing closing speaker Senator James Lankford, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein commented on the positive contribution of religious freedom to a society, and noted Senator Lankford’s defense of Judge Amy Barrett, who came under fire for her faith when being confirmed by the Senate to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Senator Lankford’s closing remarks powerfully explained the importance of all people being free to practice their beliefs. He mentioned the legal battle of Coach Kennedy as he sought to pray on the high school football field (something which shouldn’t be controversial), then forayed into international religious liberty issues such as China and Russia’s suppressions of religious freedom (citing a USCIRF report), as well as India’s anti-religious freedom laws. Lankford also addressed Turkey’s ongoing detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, as well as the importance of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback’s work. 

We have to set an example of religious freedom at home if we are going to argue for it overseas, Lankford rightly noted. He mentioned we must do better to protect the religious freedom of military chaplains, the need for legislation like the Conscience Protection Act and Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, and the importance of fixing the Johnson Amendment due to its chilling effect on religious speech. We must do religious freedom well (protecting the right for all faiths) at home to successfully promote it abroad. When it comes to religious freedom, we must show the world we walk the walk if we want to talk the talk. 

At home or abroad, as Lankford noted, religious freedom includes a robust defense of all people being able to robustly practice their faith in the public square. When this vision of religious liberty is legally protected, the battle will be one of ideas instead of a battle in the courts (or subjugation to governmental suppression of ideas).

An open marketplace of religious ideas should be something all Americans can agree upon. We encourage DOJ in its effort to ensure this marketplace remains open.

In Win for Religious Freedom, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Reminds Us Why Judicial Nominations Matter

by Travis Weber

July 17, 2018

Two days ago, in a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the freedom of the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops to live out their faith as it pertains to pro-life issues. Close votes like this remind us of the importance of judicial nominations, along with why it matters that we have judges who understand religious freedom law.

After Texas passed a law requiring the remains of unborn children to be properly cared for, pro-abortion groups challenged it, and used the lawsuit to harass and compel information from the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops (TCCB)—who had been supportive of caring for these babies’ remains. The TCCB wasn’t even a party to the case, but out of animus against its pro-life work, the pro-abortion groups tried to force it to turn over all sorts of internal communications which normally would not be disclosed as part of the discovery process. Unfortunately, in a bizarre sequence of actions for which we may never know the reason, a district court judge obliged the abortion groups, forcing the TCCB to turn over internal communications pertaining to the group’s motivations and religious workings in violation of the First Amendment—all under a ridiculously tight timeline—and all on a Sunday, Father’s Day, no less.

Thankfully, the Fifth Circuit reversed this absurd discovery order, with Judge Edith Jones penning the opinion, joined by Judge James Ho (a recent Trump appointee). Judge Jones wrote that the lower court’s “analysis was incorrectly dismissive of the seriousness of the issues raised by TCCB,” such as the inherent danger in forcing groups to disclose “internal communications within a religious body concerning its activities in the public square to advance and protect its position on serious moral or political issues”—which the First Amendment clearly protects.

Agreeing with Judge Jones, newly-confirmed Judge James Ho wrote in a separate concurrence that “[i]t is hard to imagine a better example of how far we have strayed from the text and original understanding of the Constitution than this case. The First Amendment expressly guarantees the free exercise of religion—including the right of the Bishops to express their profound objection to the moral tragedy of abortion, by offering free burial services for fetal remains. By contrast, nothing in the text or original understanding of the Constitution prevents a state from requiring the proper burial of fetal remains.”

He concluded that the “proceedings below” are “troubling,” and “leave this Court to wonder if this discovery is sought … to retaliate against people of faith for not only believing in the sanctity of life—but also for wanting to do something about it.”

Indeed. We have seen this type of harassment of religious groups before, when the City of Houston sought internal communications from pastors and churches during a lawsuit to which they were not parties—actions reasonably expected to harass these pastors and chill their activities in violation of the First Amendment.

The fact that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling was decided by one vote should remind us all of the importance of confirming good jurists like Judges Jones and Ho, and the cost of not doing so. Our religious freedom, and our nation’s fidelity to the Constitution, hang in the balance.

Are Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg For or Against Religious Hostility?

by Travis Weber , Andrew Rock

June 29, 2018

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s reasonable national security measures by a 5-4 vote in Trump v. Hawaii. In one of the dissents, Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justice Ginsburg) drew from the Court’s recent opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission to argue that President Trump’s “bias” against Muslims invalidated the travel ban because government actions cannot be motived by anti-religious sentiment. Yet less than a month ago, Justice Ginsberg (joined by Justice Sotomayor) dissented in Masterpiece, ignoring the blatant religious hostility against Jack Phillips that served as the basis for the Court’s ruling in his favor. The position of these two dissenters in Trump v. Hawaii would seem to lead to support for Jack Phillips, but it never materialized.

In Trump v. Hawaii, much biased media coverage obscured the facts of a relatively simple case. President Trump issued a proclamation that temporarily suspended entry into the U.S. of persons from countries which did not provide adequate background check information. It made no mention of any religion (six of the eight countries on the list are mostly Muslim, but the other two were not – and numerous Muslim-majority countries were not on the list). The Supreme Court held that it was well within President Trump’s authority to implement this measure as a matter of national security.

Justices Sotomayor and Ginsberg were having none of it. They insisted that the “ban” (another misnomer, since the regulations didn’t flatly ban anyone, but set up different requirements for different people trying to enter the U.S.) violated the First Amendment because of President Trump’s comments about Islam’s history of violence. The Justices reasoned that because religious hostility is not a valid basis for government action, and since these regulations were supposedly enacted out of some hostility to Muslims, then they are invalid. Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg referenced Masterpiece, which relied on the principle that government hostility to religion violates the free exercise protections of the First Amendment, to support their argument that the Court should decide differently and to imply that the majority decision was hypocritical. They ignored the fact that they both dissented against the very decision they attempted to invoke.

Indeed, Justice Ginsberg (joined by Justice Sotomayor) penned a dissent in Masterpiece which dismissed the obvious religious hostility against Jack Phillips. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission had compared Christians like Mr. Phillips who wanted to follow their consciences to Nazis and slave owners. These inflammatory statements did not concern Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, who said that “whatever one may think of the statements in their historical context…I see no reason why the comments of one or two Commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins.”

Yet Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor can’t have it both ways. If they believe religious hostility can serve as a basis for relief, as they state in Trump v. Hawaii, they also have to be prepared for to provide that relief for Jack Phillips. Conversely, if a decision can still be valid despite evidence of religious bias (as they argued in Masterpiece), then they should have supported the president’s reasonable national security regulations in Trump v. Hawaii. The Justices cannot ignore obvious religious bias when it is politically convenient, and turn around and use the same argument to attack other measures they don’t like.

The Little-Known Figures Who Had an Outsized Impact on the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

by Peter Sprigg

June 20, 2018

I have already written several times about the Supreme Court’s recent Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, in which the Court struck down Colorado’s discrimination charge against a Christian baker who declined to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The majority’s ruling rested on its finding that the proceedings against baker Jack Phillips in Colorado were tainted by anti-religious bias. I described each of the five opinions written in the case here, and explained why media referred to a 7-2 decision as “narrow” (in its reasoning, not its margin) here.

There is one more aspect of the Masterpiece case that I found interesting. The key parties to the case were the baker, Jack Phillips, and the same-sex couple, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins. The experiences and perspectives of these men had been discussed and recounted repeatedly as the case made its way through Colorado’s adjudicatory process and then through the appeal to the Supreme Court.

In the end, however, there were two lesser-known figures who played a key role in the outcome of the case. From the pro-family perspective supportive of the baker Phillips, one—a man named William Jack—helped to expose the hypocrisy of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The other—a woman named Diann Rice—may have unwittingly doomed the state’s case by verbalizing the anti-religious hostility that was fatal to their side.

Diann Rice was a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that heard the complaint against Masterpiece Cakeshop. During a July 25, 2014 meeting of the Commission, she made the following statement, which was recounted by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in his majority opinion in the 2018 case:

I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. 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.

The quote was originally found on an audio recording of the meeting, and a transcript from that recording only identified the speaker as a “female speaker.” It was not until six months later that Phillips’ attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom identified the speaker as Rice.

Justice Kennedy explained the problem with this remark:

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. The commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.

The sad thing is that the kind of contempt for “freedom of religion and religion” voiced by Rice, including the over-the-top comparison of a belief in one-man-one-woman marriage with defenses of slavery and the Holocaust, is not even considered extreme on the Left today. On the contrary, that view is utterly commonplace. For example, writer Zack Ford of ThinkProgress openly defended the remark. That is why it was so welcome to have the Supreme Court declare that such contempt is not permissible as a part of government decision-making.

The other person who surprisingly proved central to the case was William Jack. (William Jack is not to be confused with Jack Phillips, the baker at the heart of the case.)

Even after he was cited in the Court’s ruling, little has been written about Mr. Jack’s background. The liberal magazine Mother Jones wrote the most detailed article about him, referring to him as “a foot soldier in the religious-right evangelical movement.” They also linked to a brief he filed in the case in support of Phillips, which describes him as “a Colorado citizen and Christian educator who teaches nationally on issues of Christian worldview, apologetics, and leadership.”

In a sort of reverse parallel of what happened to Craig and Mullins when they requested a wedding cake from Masterpiece Cakeshop, William Jack visited three Colorado bakeries requesting that they bake him cakes with a message of opposition to same-sex marriage. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described Jack’s request most explicitly in her dissenting opinion. He wanted cakes:

made to resemble an open Bible. He also requested that each cake be decorated with Biblical verses. [He]requested that one of the cakes include an image of two groomsmen, holding hands, with a red ‘X’ over the image. On one cake, he requested [on] one side[,] … ‘God hates sin. Psalm 45:7’ and on the opposite side of the cake ‘Homosexuality is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18:2.’ On the second cake, [the one] with the image of the two groomsmen covered by a red ‘X’[Jack] requested [these words]: ‘God loves sinners’ and on the other side ‘While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.’ ”

All three bakeries declined to bake the cakes requested by Mr. Jack, on the grounds that they considered the message (especially, it seems, the image of the grooms with the red “X” and the word “sin”) to be offensive. Mr. Jack brought discrimination charges against each of the bakeries, asserting that they had discriminated against him because of his “creed” (that is, religion), which is a protected category under Colorado’s public accommodations non-discrimination law. Yet the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in Mr. Jack’s case found the bakeries not to have been guilty of discrimination—in direct contrast to the outcome for Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Mother Jones referred to Jack’s requests as a “stunt.” Jack himself admitted, according to World magazine, that he made the requests in response to the Masterpiece case, “to see if those charging discrimination against gays would care about discrimination against Christians.” He never indicated that the cakes were intended for a particular social event. On the other hand, even Mother Jones admitted such experiments

aren’t uncommon among activist groups of all political leanings seeking changes in the legal system. Civil rights organizations use testers, for instance, to see whether a landlord is refusing to rent to people of color or a car dealer is charging them higher interest on auto loans. Activists who use wheelchairs visit businesses to see whether their buildings comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and file complaints if they don’t.

The point, of course, is not that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission should have punished the bakers who refused to make cakes for Mr. Jack with a message opposing same-sex marriage. Instead, it is the opposite. They should have allowed Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop the same freedom—to refuse cakes with messages to which he has a conscientious objection—that they allowed to the bakeries approached by William Jack.

The message William Jack requested on his cakes may have seemed unusual, odd, or even, yes, offensive to some. But Justice Kennedy warned that “it is not, as the Court has repeatedly held, the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive.”

William Jack did not get his cakes, but he did prove a point—possibly turning the tide of a Supreme Court case in the process.

The Freedom to Serve: Why Religious Adoption Agencies Must Be Protected

by Spenser White

June 19, 2018

Adoption and foster care agencies are the latest battle grounds of religious freedom in the United States today. A number of states have already passed legislation which would protect religiously motivated adoption agencies from being forced to place children with those who identify as LGBT. These bills are called Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Acts (CWPIA). Not surprisingly, CWPIAs have not passed through state legislatures without opposition. Opponents call them “needless”—but are they? Or are they necessary to ensure the survival of faith-based adoption agencies?

In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston shocked the U.S. charity world when, on March 10, it announced it “plann[ed] to be in discussion with the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] to end [its] work in adoption services.” They cited disagreement with the Massachusetts law which required the charity to violate its convictions on a child’s need for a mom and dad. Catholic teaching describes homosexual adoption as gravely immoral. The Archdiocese declared in a statement concerning the issue, “in spite of much effort and analysis, Catholic Charities of Boston finds that it cannot reconcile the teaching of the Church, which guides our work, and the statutes and regulations of the Commonwealth.”

This was one of the first situations that showed the dark underbelly of sexual orientation “non-discrimination” policies. Following the Archdiocese of Boston’s decision, Catholic Charities of D.C. was “informed…that the agency would be ineligible to serve as a foster care provider due to the impending D.C. same-sex marriage law.” Catholic Charities was forced into similar situations in southern Illinois and in San Francisco.

North Dakota became the first state to protect religious-based charities when, in 2003, it passed a law which states: “A child-placing agency is not required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, facilitate, refer, or participate in a placement that violates the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” In addition, the law also states that a state cannot deny a contract based on religion. These laws read similarly in the states that have passed them. Kansas, Alabama, Virginia, Michigan, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Texas have passed CWPIAs. Oklahoma is the newest state to pass a CWPIA on May 11, 2018.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution declares that “[g]overnment shall make no law respecting religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In forcing religious charities to choose between violating their religious beliefs or shutting down, the government is effectively prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

Under CWPIAs, no adoption agency is prohibited by the state from allowing anyone to adopt children, it only allows religious charities to uphold their religious belief that children need a mom and dad.  

There are an estimated 118,000 children in need of adoption in the United States right now. Limiting the number of adoption agencies is certainly not the best way to help them. The well-being of children should be paramount, and they should not be used as pawns in the culture war. Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Acts allow for religiously motivated charities to continue to operate and place children without violating their consciences, a freedom the government is required under the Constitution to protect.

Be sure to read FRC’s in-depth analysis on the importance of CWPIAs.

Spenser White is an intern at Family Research Council.

Good But Not Great: Don’t Be Fooled by the Masterpiece Decision

by Andrew Rock

June 12, 2018

While it is wonderful that the Supreme Court gave Jack Phillips long-overdue justice in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado, the battle for religious liberty is far from over. The Court only held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s obvious bias against Phillips violated his right to a neutral decision maker. This means that future cases could undermine religious liberty so long as the decision makers appear neutral. What we need is a decision or a law that explicitly protects business owners like Jack Phillips, or better still, a repeal of misguided laws passed under the guise of “antidiscrimination.”

Jack Phillips runs Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, and in 2012, he refused to create a cake for the wedding of a same-sex couple. The couple complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, who sent the case to an Administrative Law Judge, who in turn found that Phillips had broken Colorado’s civil rights laws. The Supreme Court held that the Commission had violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment due to their blatant anti-faith bias.

The Commission brusquely dismissed Phillips’ arguments that his faith precluded him from endorsing a same-sex wedding without thoughtfully addressing their substance or nuance. One commission member went so far as to compare Phillips’ arguments for religious liberty to those of slave owners and people complicit in the Holocaust. In addition, the Commission granted exemptions to bakers who refused to bake cakes with Bible verses opposing homosexual behavior, holding that this was not unlawful discrimination. The Court held that the flagrant anti-faith bias shown in the Commission’s comments and decision-making invalidated its judgment in Phillips’ case, because the First Amendment requires the government to remain neutral on religious issues.

While it is good that the Court rebuked this blatant abuse of power, this decision does not bode well for future religious liberty cases. The Court merely held that someone like Phillips has the right to a hearing before a neutral decision maker, and if this occurs, outcomes in such cases “may well be different going forward.”

This means that the next case could go poorly for a Christian business owner, provided that the deciding body maintains a pretense of neutrality. If a court or commission can restrain themselves enough to avoid comparing ordinary Christians to slave-owners and Nazis, and then finds that their freedom of conscience subjects “gay persons to indignities,” (which is vague and subjective enough to mean just about anything), they could easily punish someone for refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding through cake or floral design, photography, or other creative service. This is poor precedent, as it leaves Christian businesses vulnerable to biased decisions by courts and commissions sly enough to conceal their prejudice when they apply laws such as Colorado’s.

Since a court that appears neutral could easily use these “antidiscrimination” laws to punish Christians who follow their conscience, religious freedom rights must be clarified in the context of these laws. Better yet, given the constant abuse of laws like Colorado’s to target anyone who disagrees with the politically correct orthodoxy, it would make sense to repeal them and avoid the problem entirely.

Jack Phillips received well-deserved relief in this case, and there is now clear precedent against open bias on the part of courts and commissions in similar instances. However, there is still an enormous risk that decision makers will simply stay quiet about their anti-Christian biases and continue to produce biased and skewed decisions based on current “antidiscrimination” laws. This means that we need to either craft protections in the context of these laws or repeal them outright.

Andrew Rock is a law student and an intern at Family Research Council.

Masterpiece Cakeshop: How Can a 7-2 Supreme Court Decision Be “Narrow?”

by Peter Sprigg

June 8, 2018

On June 4, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a decision by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (upheld by Colorado courts) that had found baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop guilty of unlawful discrimination for declining to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The vote was 7-2—that is, seven justices voted to overturn the Colorado decision, while only two voted to uphold it.

The New York Times’ online story about the ruling carried the headline, “In Narrow Decision, Supreme Court Sides With Baker Who Turned Away Gay Couple.” The Washington Post editorialized, “The Supreme Court’s narrow ruling on a wedding cake is a step in the right direction.”

Subsequently, I noticed some people on social media (especially conservative friends) grousing about the description of the 7-2 decision as “narrow,” as though the liberal media was trying to downplay Jack Phillips’ decisive victory. So I thought I would offer a short explanation.

Masterpiece Cakeshop is being described as a “narrow” ruling not because of its margin, but because of its reasoning. Neither side in the case got everything that it wanted.

Those supporting Colorado, and supporting Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins (the same-sex couple who had requested a cake from Phillips), wanted a broad ruling that 1) Phillips violated Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act by discriminating against the couple on the basis of “sexual orientation; and 2) that no claim of religious freedom or free speech can excuse that statutory violation by a business that qualifies as a “public accommodation.” In the end, only two justices (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Sonia Sotomayor joining her in dissent) adopted that view and considered it decisive.

Those supporting the baker Phillips, on the other hand, wanted a broad ruling that his rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion, because they are fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution, must take precedence over the statutory provisions of Colorado law. Yet the Court’s ruling in favor of the free exercise claim was a narrow one, and only two justices expressed support for the free speech claim as well (Clarence Thomas, with Neil Gorsuch joining his concurrence in the judgment).

(I should note as well that some key elements of the case remained in dispute. Phillips’ attorneys questioned whether the Anti-Discrimination Act even applied, arguing that Phillips did not, in fact, “discriminate” on the basis of “sexual orientation” at all, because he was happy to serve self-identified gay customers with products other than a wedding cake. Colorado’s attorneys questioned whether the First Amendment even applied, arguing that baking a cake cannot be considered a form of “speech” at all.)

Instead of clearly explaining that Jack Phillips’ has robust constitutional rights regarding the cakes he designs, the majority opinion found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission simply didn’t behave well enough in this case, due to: (1) the hostility aimed specifically at his religious beliefs (evidenced in comments of the Commission), and (2) the different treatment the Commission gave a parallel case (one in which the Commission allowed bakeries to refuse to make cakes criticizing same-sex marriage). It was only because the Commission exhibited anti-religious bias in its proceedings against Jack Phillips that the Supreme Court threw out its ruling, on free exercise grounds. Justice Gorsuch also wrote a strong concurrence, joined by Justice Alito, elaborating on the strength of the free exercise claim here.

Although they joined the majority opinion, Justices Kagan and Breyer additionally wrote a concurrence explaining that their lukewarm support for Phillips was only based on the fact that he was treated really badly by members of the Commission in this case. They argued that the disparate treatment between the two bakery cases could have been justified, were it not for the overt anti-religious hostility exhibited by the Commission.

Justices Kennedy and Roberts—in writing and joining only the majority opinion, respectively—ruled in favor of Phillips, but not on the basis of a sweeping affirmation of his freedom of speech or of religion.

A definitive Supreme Court precedent, resolving the underlying dispute between “non-discrimination” principles and freedom of speech and religion, will have to await another case and another decision. That is why many are calling Masterpiece a “narrow” decision.

Masterpiece Cakeshop: Summary of Each Supreme Court Opinion

by Peter Sprigg

June 7, 2018

In the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, finding by a 7-2 vote in favor of a baker who had declined to create a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, there were five separate opinions written.

Here, I offer a brief summary (not a detailed legal analysis) of what each of these opinions contained. (For more, see this blog post by FRC’s Travis Weber.) In the five opinions:

  1. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Elena Kagan, and Justice Neil Gorsuch (six Justices; Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately “concurring in part and concurring in the judgment,” but did not join the Court’s opinion);
  2. Justice Kagan wrote a concurrence which Justice Breyer joined;
  3. Justice Gorsuch wrote a concurrence which Justice Alito joined;
  4. Justice Thomas wrote an opinion “concurring in part and concurring in the judgment,” with which Justice Gorsuch joined;
  5. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Here’s an overview of each opinion:

Kennedy for the Court (joined by Roberts, Breyer, Alito, Kagan, and Gorsuch):

Justice Kennedy ruled in favor of Masterpiece because “the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality.” He found this for two reasons:

  1. Comments made by members of the Commission in the course of its hearings, especially one notorious quote:

    “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. 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.”

    Kennedy noted that this statement disparages 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.”

  2. The difference in treatment between Phillips’ case and the cases of other bakers, who had refused to bake cakes communicating negative religious messages about same-sex marriage, but were found not to have discriminated against the customer (William Jack) on the basis of religion. He notes inconsistency in how the free speech claims were treated, but most notably in how the conscience objections were viewed, with the Commission accepting the secular objection to making anti-SSM cakes “because of the offensive nature of the requested message,” but rejecting Phillips’ religious objection to making a same-sex wedding cake. Kennedy says, “[I]t is not, as the Court has repeatedly held, the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive,” yet the Colorado decision “elevates one view of what is offensive over another and itself sends a signal of official disapproval of Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

Kagan concurring, with Breyer joining:

This short opinion (a little over three pages) concurs in the judgment—but goes out of its way to say that Colorado could have made a legitimate distinction between the Masterpiece case and the three cases of William Jack (who was refused cakes expressing opposition to same-sex marriage, but was not deemed a victim of discrimination). Kagan says explicitly that Jack Phillips of Masterpiece was guilty of discrimination:

Phillips sells wedding cakes. As to that product, he unlawfully discriminates: He sells it to opposite-sex but not to same-sex couples. And on that basis—which has nothing to do with Phillips’ religious beliefs—Colorado could have distinguished Phillips from the bakers in the Jack cases, who did not engage in any prohibited discrimination.

However, she concurs because the State’s decisions must not be “infected by religious hostility or bias”—as in this case.

Gorsuch concurring, with Alito joining:

Gorsuch focused in specifically on the disparate treatment of the Masterpiece case as opposed to the three William Jack cases involving refusal to bake cakes opposing same-sex marriage. In contrast to both the Ginsburg/Sotomayor dissent and the narrow Kagan/Breyer concurrence, Gorsuch argued that there was a very close correspondence between the facts of the cases, saying that “the two cases share all legally salient features”:

  • bakers refused services to persons who bore a statutorily protected trait (religious faith or sexual orientation)”
  • they would not sell the requested cakes to anyone, while they would sell other cakes to members of the protected class (as well as to anyone else)”
  • the bakers in the first case [William Jack] were generally happy to sell to persons of faith, just as the baker in the second case [Jack Phillips/Masterpiece] was generally happy to sell to gay persons.”

Gorsuch concludes that “the Commission failed to act neutrally by applying a consistent legal rule,” and warns that “the one thing it can’t do is apply a more generous legal test to secular objections than religious ones.” In contrast to the four liberals, Gorsuch states explicitly that “the Commission must afford him [Jack Phillips/Masterpiece] the same result it afforded the bakers in Mr. Jack’s case.”

Thomas, “concurring in part and concurring in the judgment,” Gorsuch joining:

To me, one of the most notable facts of the decision is that at oral arguments, the ADF attorneys representing Masterpiece put their emphasis on arguments resting on First Amendment Free Speech grounds (not Free Exercise of Religion). They emphasized that designing custom wedding cakes is a form of artistic expression and therefore, requiring they be provided for same-sex weddings is an unconstitutional form of “compelled speech” by the government. This, however, turned out not to be the primary issue addressed by the court, which instead decided there was a Free Exercise violation because of the lack of religious neutrality.

Justice Thomas’ opinion was the only one that addressed the Free Speech issues at length. He acknowledges that the issue here is “expressive conduct” rather than pure speech as such, but says under Court precedents, “Once a court concludes that conduct is expressive, the Constitution limits the government’s authority to restrict or compel it.” He says that in this case, “Phillips’ creation of custom wedding cakes is expressive,” and concludes the following:

Forcing Phillips to make custom wedding cakes for same-sex marriages requires him to, at the very least, acknowledge that same-sex weddings are “weddings” and suggest that they should be celebrated—the precise message he believes his faith forbids.

Although declining to decide whether Colorado’s law satisfies “strict scrutiny,” Thomas warns, “States cannot punish protected speech because some group finds it offensive, hurtful, stigmatic, unreasonable, or undignified.”

Ginsburg dissenting, Sotomayor joining:

Like the Gorsuch/Alito concurrence, the Ginsburg/Sotomayor dissent focused specifically on the differing results given by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the case involving Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop (where refusing to provide the cake requested by the customer was found to be illegal discrimination) as opposed to the cases involving customer William Jack (where refusing to provide the cakes requested by the customer was found not to be illegal discrimination). However, Justice Ginsburg reaches the exact opposite conclusion from that of Justice Gorsuch.

Ginsburg and Sotomayor agreed with their liberal colleagues Justices Kagan and Breyer in saying that the cases could be legitimately distinguished, but disagreed with the latter pair’s conclusion that anti-religious bias had impermissibly “infected” Colorado’s adjudication of the cases. Ginsburg writes:

The different outcomes the Court features do not evidence hostility to religion of the kind we have previously held to signal a free-exercise violation, nor do the comments by one or two members of one of the four decisionmaking entities considering this case justify reversing the judgment below. 

Commentary

The problem I see with the dissent is this statement (which was repeated, in various ways, several times): “Phillips did … discriminate because of sexual orientation; the other bakers did not discriminate because of religious belief.” Ginsburg argues that Phillips’ refusal of a same-sex wedding cake was “determined solely by the identity of the customer” whereas the refusal of William Jack’s request “was due to the demeaning message” he wanted displayed.

Since Phillips regularly serves customers who identify as gay (but would refuse a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding regardless of who requests it), the first conclusion is questionable. The latter conclusion, however, is nothing short of astonishing. What Ginsburg calls a “demeaning message” may have been crude (including, among other things, “an image of two groomsmen, holding hands, with a red ‘X’ over the image”), but combined with biblical verses and quotations, its essential content was that 1) homosexual conduct is sinful, and 2) God does not approve of same-sex sexual relationships or consider them to be “marriage.” I fail to see how this “message” (however “demeaning” some may find it) can be seen as not representing a “religious belief.”

Note that this is not to say that the solution would be to force bakers to make cakes with messages they consider “demeaning,” as well as forcing them to make cakes for same-sex weddings. Instead, the opposite would be ideal. Baking cakes, whether to celebrate a specific event such as a same-sex wedding or to condemn that concept, is a form of expressive conduct that should not be compelled by the government. Even if Colorado believes that its Anti-Discrimination Act was violated, the provisions of this state statute cannot be allowed to override the bakers’ fundamental right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

No baker should be forced to communicate a message with which he or she disagrees. Although Jack Phillips prevailed in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the ruling does not clearly apply the Court’s compelled speech precedents to that context. The debate continues.

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