The U.S. Supreme Court took an important step in affirming Americans’ rights to freedom of speech and religious expression in a ruling that sided with a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
In the closely watched case, Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the June 4 decision held that the rights commission showed “clear and impermissible hostility to the sincere religious beliefs” of Christian baker Jack Phillips when it imposed sanctions on him under the state’s anti-discrimination law.
The high court’s affirmation of religious liberty as a basic American right is a refreshing and welcome assurance in this increasingly secularized society, where religious faith is regularly dismissed or disparaged.
Just as heartening is the strong 7-to-2 majority that decided the case. Even a dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was relatively mild, with the justice stating that there’s a lot in the decision with which she agrees.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, wrote that the government cannot act in a manner “that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices.” He added that the commission was “neither tolerant nor respectful of Phillips’ religious beliefs.”
Still, Justice Kennedy walked a fine line that took into account the Constitutional protections of speech and religious practice versus anti-discrimination laws.
The case was narrowly decided in that the ruling applies only to the 2012 attempt by Charlie Craig and David Mullins to order a custom-designed wedding cake, and does not apply across the board to similar cases, which could have different results.
“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” Justice Kennedy wrote, “all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
That’s a reasonable approach.
We expect to see a raft of other cases involving florists, caterers and other businesses that oppose same-sex marriages, some of which are already making their way through the courts. But the clear statement of the justices this week will, hopefully, provide a foundation for a fair and acceptable national policy going forward.
We strongly agree with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have been concerned for some time about protecting religious liberty and who issued a statement applauding the Supreme Court decision.
It “confirms that people of faith should not suffer discrimination on account of their deeply held religious beliefs, but instead should be respected by government officials,” the bishops stated. “In a pluralistic society like ours, true tolerance allows people with different viewpoints to be free to live out their beliefs, even if those beliefs are unpopular with the government.”
We understand there will be many strong and conflicting opinions as reactions to the current case continue and as new cases come up.
This is an important issue, and we hope that Americans will address it with tolerance and respect.