The Colorado Civil Rights Commission is an embarrassing affront to civil rights. Don’t rely on us for this view. Analyze the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling Monday in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
The court’s ruling makes the commission sound more like a mindless star chamber than an entity responsible for upholding religious liberty and other civil rights. Through “hostility” toward Christian beliefs and religious liberty, the commission damaged a man’s reputation and business.
The ruling wasn’t close. The court voted 7-2 in favor of an opinion that admonishes the commission for its treatment of Lakewood baker Jack Phillips and abates its action against him.
Liberal justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer joined the majority opinion, written by moderate justice and consistent gay-rights defender Anthony Kennedy.
The conflict began in 2012, when couple Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins entered Masterpiece and asked Phillips to design a cake to celebrate their pending marriage in Massachusetts. Phillips politely declined. He had done business with the couple but did not want to design something celebrating their wedding. Doing so, he explained, would violate his religious beliefs.
Craig and Mullins filed a discrimination complaint. The commission, Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer, and the Colorado Court of Appeals sided with the couple.
The ruling jeopardized civil rights that protect us all. A state that forces artistic expression might demand gay bakers create cakes for homophobes. It might order a black baker to design cakes for the Ku Klux Klan. Freedom to associate necessitates freedom to disassociate.
The discriminatory commission ordered Phillips to “cease and desist from discriminating.” It ordered him to obtain “comprehensive staff training on the Public Accommodations section” of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. It ordered him to change “any and all company policies to comply with” the commission’s order.
The commission ordered Phillips to prepare “quarterly compliance reports” documenting “the number of patrons denied service” and “a statement describing the remedial actions taken.”
The orders led Phillips to give up designing wedding cakes. He laid off 60 percent of his employees and suffered six years of financial loss.
The court minced no words in denouncing the state’s mistreatment of Phillips. A few highlights:
. The “Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the State’s obligation of religious neutrality”
. “When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires”
. “The Commission’s actions here violated the Free Exercise Clause”
. “Religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views”
. “The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised”
As previously explained in this space, the Phillips case inspired Bill Jack of Castle Rock to test the consistency of the Civil Rights Commission’s opposition to bakers declining cake orders they don’t like.
Jack asked three Denver-area bakers to create Bible-shaped cakes and adorn each with scripture opposing homosexuality. The bakers refused, so Jack complained to the Civil Rights Commission.
Incredibly, the commission sided with the bakers. Phillips must design cakes that offend him, while bakers offended by scripture have no such obligation. The conflicting rulings were ignorant, weird and blatantly discriminatory.
The court characterized the state’s disparate treatment as more “hostility” toward Christian beliefs.
“A principled rationale for the difference in treatment of these two instances cannot be based on the government’s own assessment of offensiveness,” the opinion explains.
This was not a case about gay rights. As the majority opinion states, other conflicts of this nature must be separately adjudicated “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.”
This case prevents authorities from favoring select liberties and disparaging others, based on popular sentiment. It tells civil rights commissions and lower courts to uphold the law, not just those elements of law favored by commissioners and judges.
Colorado state government’s abuse of Phillips cost him more than his constitutional rights. It harmed his reputation and business. It cost six employees their jobs. With this ruling, state government should compensate Phillips. It owes him for the damage it caused in a crusade to insult and denounce our inalienable right to exercise beliefs.
—The Gazette, June 4, 2018