Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Commission on Civil Rights, No. 16-111, 574 U.S. ____ (June 4, 2018).
This much publicized case promised a showdown between gay civil rights and religious convictions in the public square. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the state’s Court of Appeals found in favor of the gay couple who complained of civil rights violations when a custom baker declined to create a cake for their wedding, citing religious convictions precluding support of gay marriage.
The controversy pitted egalitarian principles governing commerce — the public accommodations laws — against a merchant’s religious views which, he averred, precluded the extension of goods and services to the gay couple seeking a custom wedding cake.
Noting the depth and significance of the issues presented, the Supreme Court today deftly left them for another day, finding that the conduct of the state in adjudicating the couple’s discrimination claim in itself violated the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s contempt for the baker and the expressed view that religious freedom has justified slavery and the Holocaust caused the commission to be in dereliction of its obligation of fairness and neutrality in considering religious assertions. As such, the Commission’s determinations and the judgment of the state court of appeals upholding it must be reversed.
Those hoping for some sort of High Noon between civil rights and religious liberties in this case may pause for a moment of disappointment. Nonetheless, there may have been wisdom in the Court’s taking the high road on the issues of substance in favor of chastening those who administer justice that they must do so with due regard to the rights of all who appear before them. A basic lesson, perhaps, but one that this Court, on the record before it, clearly felt merited repeating.