The premise of arecent religious freedom and LGBT rights dispute is centered around a wedding cake.
Five years ago, David Mullins and Charlie Craig entered a bakery in Colorado,Masterpiece Cakeshop, requesting a cake for their wedding reception from theowner, Jack Philips (Saffran, 2017). He declined, saying it was against hisChristian religious and moral values to bake a cake for a homosexual couple(Saffran, 2017). A legal battle developed as Philips was found to be inviolation of Colorado law against unlawful discrimination (De Vogue, 2017). Accordingto Colorado state law, businesses are banned from discriminating againstcustomers based on their race or sexual orientation (Wolf, 2017). As stated byPhilips, however, baking custom-made cakes is an artistic practice using his”God-given talents” and he cannot legally be forced to create his artistic workwith a message that goes against his moral beliefs “that marriage is between aman and a woman” (De Vogue, 2017). Philips and his legal team are seeking toprove that legally forcing him to bake the cake will violate his 1stAmendment rights (Wolf, 2017). On the other side of the case, the American CivilLiberties Union, representing Mullins and Craig, will argue that the 1stAmendment does not protect Philips’ unlawful discrimination based solely on theirsexual orientation and granting businesses the right to violate these rights isunconstitutional (Wolf, 2017). The Supreme Court will rule on the case in 2018.
This case raisesthe significant question if businesses can depend on religious justificationsto disregard state discrimination laws. If Philips wins this case, it would seta precedent for future businesses to share their religious beliefs and denyservices from homosexual couples (Wolf, 2017). This could create and warrant aform of protected, systemic discrimination against certain groups that areagainst businesses’ beliefs to serve. For example, a same-sex couple could bedenied a wedding photographer because it was against the photographer’s religiousbeliefs to support people of the same sex getting married. A ruling in favor ofPhilips not only opens the door to this argument, but also reverts back to abygone era of structured discrimination (Stohr, 2017).
Justice Stephen Breyershared his opinion on the case saying that it could “undermine every civilrights law from the year 2” (Wolf, 2017). This could be exceedingly dangerousfor a country that prides itself in being racially and religiously heterogeneous.If Mullins and Craig win the case, it will set a model for future cases thatfirst Amendment freedoms cannot be used to excuse forms of blatantdiscrimination against specific groups in society (Stohr, 2017). This case illustratesthe importance of the social implementation of legislature. Various previousreligious liberty cases may set the precedent for the result of this case. In1972, Wisconsin v. Yoder the SupremeCourt displayed immense agreement and support for religious liberty, holdingthat the 1st Amendment right to freedom of religion was superior tothe state’s interests.
This changed in 1990, however, when the justices in Employment Division, Department of HumanResources of Oregon v. Smith ruled that religious beliefs were not validgrounds to refuse to obey state laws. Most recently in 2014, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby held that inorder to protect their owner’s religious liberty, companies had the right to refusecontraceptive benefits.
The ruling of this case was upheld and directly implementedwhen the Trump administration permitted all employers a religious exemption tothe contraception coverage mandated by the AffordableCare Act in 2017 (Pear, 2017). The recurrent debate between upholding statelaws as opposed to protected freedoms has plagued the United States throughouthistory, as demonstrated in these cases.The outcome ofthis case will also heavily impact LGBT equality rights. The socialconservative movement has continually advocated for religious liberties, usingthis constitutional protection as a force against gay rights after the nationallegalization of same-sex marriage in Obergefellv.
Hodges (2015). These anti-LGBT groups, lawmakers, and supporters havefought for the regulation of religious freedoms as an admissible defense in legalproceedings, evident in Indiana’s ReligiousFreedom Restoration Act in 2015. Indiana was the twentieth state to adoptthis type of law (Epps, 2017). Various forms of governmental discriminationsagainst marginalized groups in society have become somewhat customary recently,ranging from excluding LGBT citizens as a category on the 2020 Census tobarring transgender troops from the military (Scott, 2017). President DonaldTrump shared his commentary on this case that businesses should be allowed tohang signs on their windows saying they will not serve LGBT clients (Stohr,2017). In response to this, Justice Anthony M.
Kennedy expressed that it wouldbe an “affront to the gay community” if this were to happen (Stohr, 2017). Itis seemingly evident that the LGBT population around the United States now facesan impending risk of becoming second-class citizens. This case ignites anational debate concerning far more than just the implementation of protected freedomsand state laws, but life-changing steps towards or away from social equality.