Law School Case Brief
Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm'n - 138 S. Ct. 1719 (2018)
The Constitution commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures. Factors relevant to the assessment of governmental neutrality include the historical background of the decision under challenge, the specific series of events leading to the enactment or official policy in question, and the legislative or administrative history, including contemporaneous statements made by members of the decision-making body.
Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. was a Colorado bakery owned and operated by Jack Phillips, an expert baker and devout Christian. In 2012, he told a same-sex couple that he would not create a cake for their wedding celebration because of his religious opposition to same-sex marriages - marriages that Colorado did not then recognize - but that he would sell them other baked goods, such as birthday cakes. The couple filed a charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (Commission) pursuant to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in a place of business engaged in any sales to the public and any place offering services to the public. Under CADA's administrative review system, the Colorado Civil Rights Division first found probable cause for a violation and referred the case to the Commission. The Commission then referred the case for a formal hearing before a state Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who ruled in the couple's favor. In so doing, the ALJ rejected Phillips' First Amendment claims: that requiring him to create a cake for a same-sex wedding would violate his right to free speech by compelling him to exercise his artistic talents to express a message with which he disagreed and would violate his right to the free exercise of religion. Both the Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed.
Did the Colorado Civil Rights Commission err in its decision to reject Phillips’ first amendment claims?
The Supreme Court of the United States held that the state civil rights commission violated the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause when it ruled that Phillips violated a state anti-discrimination act because the commission's treatment of Phillips’ case displayed a clear and impermissible hostility towards his sincere religious beliefs. According to the Court, under the Free Exercise Clause, a State had a duty not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or a religious viewpoint, the Free Exercise Clause barred even subtle departures from neutrality on matters of religion, and the official expressions of hostility to the baker's religion in some of the commissioners' comments were inconsistent with the Free Exercise Clause.
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