A same-sex couple visited Masterplace Cakeshop, a bakery in Colorado, to order a cake for their wedding reception. The shop owner, however, refused to create a cake because of his religious opposition to same-sex marriages. At that time, the state of Colorado also did not recognize same-sex marriages. The couple filed a complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission arguing that the owner’s refusal discriminated based on sexual orientation in violation of the Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act.
The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths. (Obergefell)
Masterpiece Cakeshop located in Colorado was run by an expert baker, who was a devout Christian. He sought to “honor God through his work at Masterpiece Cakeshop” and because the God intended marriage to be a union between one man and one woman, he opposed same-sex marriages. A same-sex couple visited the Cakeshop and showed interest in ordering a cake for their wedding. The owner responded that he would make birthday cakes, shower cakes, but no wedding cakes. He later said creating a wedding cake for a same-sex couple directly goes against the teachings of the Bible. The Colorado Ant-Discrimination Act prohibits various discrimination including sex and sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.
Does the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s ruling – that the shop owner’s refusal to create a cake because of his religious opposition to a same-sex marriage violates the Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act – violate the Constitution?
Yes, the Commission’s ruling violates the Free Exercise Clause. The Commission’s order on the shop owner has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection. The Commission’s treatment was neither tolerant nor respectful of the owner’s religious beliefs and violates the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.
The majority argues that the Commission’s hostility toward the owner was discernible, but what the majority has stated does not evidence hostility to religion of the kind this Court has previously held to signal a free-exercise violation. Also, the precedents cited by the majority do not align with the current case because in prior cases, the bakers refused to make a cake for any customer regardless of his or her religion. Thus, the precedents shall not dictate our case.
When the government fails to act neutrally toward the free exercise of religion, it can prevail only if it satisfies strict scrutiny, showing that its restrictions on religion both serve a compelling interest and are narrowly tailored. The Commission failed to act neutrally toward the owner’s religious faith without proving its legitimate interest.
The Commission’s hostility toward the shop owner was not consistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion. The Commission disparaged the owner’s religion publicly by describing it as despicable and characterizing it as insubstantial and insincere. This conduct is not appropriate for a Commission responsible for fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law – a law that protects against discrimination based on religion as well as sexual orientation. Moreover, the Commission ruled against the owner on the theory that any message the requested wedding cake would carry would be attributed to the customer, not to the baker. However, the Commission did not address this in any of its other similar cases with respect to the cakes depicting anti-gay marriage symbolism.