The Supreme Court ruled Monday for a Colorado baker who wouldn't make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in a limited decision that leaves for another day the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.
The Arizona-based group also is representing Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker. The two men wanted a cake for a reception they planned to hold in Colorado after they married in MA.
Phillips had refused to bake the couple's wedding cake due to his religious beliefs against gay marriage.
"Whatever the confluence of speech and free exercise principles might be in some cases", Kennedy wrote, "the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's consideration of this case was inconsistent with the state's obligation of religious neutrality".
This result may be a bit confusing to anyone who thinks, as some of the commissioners did, that the baker, Jack Phillips, was exhibiting hostility to the gay couple by refusing to bake their wedding cake.
The decision means that a final determination from the court on whether individuals and businesses have a First Amendment right to discriminate against same-sex couples may come a later time.
In a 7-2 majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy faulted the commission for "a clear and impermissible hostility" to Phillips' religious beliefs.
Nevertheless, it doesn't appear the commission will undergo any significant change.
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Jack Phillips speaks to the media after leaving the Supreme Court which heard the 'Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, ' on December 5, 2017, in Washington.
The state officials were handed a tongue-lashing.
The Civil Rights Commission had required bakery owner Jack Phillips to either make cakes for gay weddings or stop making custom wedding cakes at all. No commissioners objected to the comments.
The decision will likely mean the Colorado Civil Rights Commission will rehear the case, although there's no reason to think the outcome will be different even if the commissioners approach it differently as advised by Kennedy.
Washington's attorney general, Bob Ferguson, said the high court's decision in the Colorado case "may lead to additional procedural steps", but it won't affect the ultimate outcome in the Arlene's Flowers case. "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". The other judges were much more focused on the disparate treatment of Phillips' religious objections. "The court was right to condemn that", Kristen Waggoner said. They publicly mocked Christianity and the baker.
But the court did not issue a definitive ruling on the circumstances under which people can seek exemptions from anti-discrimination laws based on their religious views. In response, the Trump administration, in a highly unusual filing with the Supreme Court, cried foul.
But the court stayed away from that part of the case.