Approx. 1,300 Multi-Faith Leaders Say Gov't Can Force Christian Baker to Make Gay Wedding Cake

Jack Phillips, a Colorado native and cake artist, owns Masterpiece Cakeshop, which was opened in 1993.
Jack Phillips, a Colorado native and cake artist, owns Masterpiece Cakeshop, which was opened in 1993. | (Screenshot: ADF)

Around 1,300 multi-faith leaders and assorted theologically liberal religious groups have filed a brief before the Supreme Court stating that a Colorado baker must make gay wedding cakes despite his religious objections to doing so.

Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal from Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cake, who was punished by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.

In an amicus brief filed Monday, the interfaith coalition of clergy and groups argued that "public accommodation laws should be applied on the basis of religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law."

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Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts (R) walks with associate Justice Neil Gorsuch during his investiture ceremony at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2017.
Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts (R) walks with associate Justice Neil Gorsuch during his investiture ceremony at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

"Personal religious views are entitled to the utmost respect, but do not provide a license to disregard neutral civil rights laws that do not directly and substantially burden actual religious exercise," read the brief.

"Petitioner Jack Phillips has every right to his religious beliefs concerning marriage and to lawfully act on those beliefs in his personal and religious life. But once he held himself out as a baker marketing wedding cakes to the general public, he became subject to public accommodation laws [Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act]."

Groups that have signed onto the brief include Reconciling Ministries Network, Unitarian Universalist Association, the Union for Reform Judaism, Muslims for Progressive Values, and the Religious Institute, among others.

In comments emailed to The Christian Post, the Rev. Marie Alford-Harkey, president and CEO of the Religious Institute stated that this brief showed that many clergy support the LGBT community.

"Millions of people of faith are opposed to discrimination against LGBTQ people because of — not in spite of — their faith, and their belief in justice, dignity, and equal treatment for all," said Rev. Alford-Harkey.

"There is a strong and growing movement of people of faith and religious leaders committed to taking faith-rooted action on LGBTQ justice. This brief is the most recent action in the ongoing, deeply faithful movement for LGBTQ justice."

Jon Scruggs, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, told CP that the amicus brief's claims about neutrality and religious exemption contradicts Supreme Court precedent.

"The Supreme Court has already provided guidance on these points. That 'neutral civil rights laws' cannot be applied to substantially burden religious beliefs, or in this case, to compel someone to speak a message that violates their religious beliefs," he said.

Scruggs also referenced the 1943 Supreme Court decision West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, in which the justices ruled 6-3 that students could refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, including for religious objections.

"That goes all the way back to Barnette, but recently in 1995 the Supreme Court invalidated an application of a public accommodation law, just like the law at stake here, saying that it can't be used to compel speech," said Scruggs.

"So there can be no dispute that compelling Jack to custom make and design a wedding cake that promotes a view on marriage, that goes against the core of his beliefs and identity, there can be no more of a burden on his religious beliefs than that."

In 2014, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission found Phillips guilty of violating state law when he refused on religious grounds to make a gay wedding cake for a same-sex couple back in 2012.

Although Phillips sold baked goods of various kinds to people regardless of sexual orientation, the Commission ordered that he undergo sensitivity training and change his business' policies.

Phillips appealed his case with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom. However, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against him.

"We all lose if Jack loses. But a win for Jack should protect the right to live and work consistent with our convictions," argued the ADF in a column published Oct. 26.

"The government should never be able to force artists out of the marketplace – and financially devastate them – just because it disagrees with them. Your right to earn a living and to create art shouldn't depend on whether your view is popular or in line with government orthodoxy."

For his part, Phillips has had dozens of amicus briefs filed in support of his stance, including a motion filed by the Trump Administration in October.

"As a general matter, the United States has a substantial interest in the preservation of federal constitutional rights of free expression," read the government's motion.

"In addition, the United States has a particular interest in the scope of such rights in the context of the Colorado statute here, which shares certain features with federal public accommodations laws including Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990."

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