Supreme Court hands important win to Christians
Social conservatives’ celebration of the long-awaited “cake case” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court was a bit restrained. Many felt the court stopped short of a full defense of Colorado baker Jack Phillips.
Perhaps there is more reason to cheer than some think.
In 2012, two gay men asked Phillips to make a special cake for their wedding. He cited his Christian religious beliefs in declining to do so. Supporting the marriage of two gay men in any way would go against his beliefs, Phillips said.
Phillips’ bakery is just outside of Denver. Had the two men just wanted a cake, there were plenty of other places they could have bought one. But they wanted to punish Phillips, so they filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Members of that panel ruled Phillips had infringed upon the men’s rights. One wonders how they would have ruled had he refused to bake a cake for a neo-Nazi group. Or for a bunch of kids wanting a Halloween cake; Phillips says making those is against his religious beliefs, too.
Once the CCRC slapped Phillips down, he decided to fight back. Thus, his case went to the high court, which decided in his favor by a 7-2 vote.
Various justices expressed different opinions on why Phillips should prevail over the CCRC. But the bottom line was not that the court ruled the baker had a right to refuse service to anyone because of his religious beliefs. Instead the court backed Phillips because he did not receive a fair shake from the CCRC.
Some observers say that missed the point. I beg to differ. It is the point.
It seems CCRC panelists made their disdain for people of faith very clear. Phillips went before them with two strikes against him.
As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, the “neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised” by comments by members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. During one hearing, panel members repeatedly “endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, implying that religious beliefs and persons are less than fully welcome in Colorado’s business community,” Kennedy wrote.
Dodging the real issue? Perhaps not.
Think about it: What is it that people like Phillips have complained of for years? It is that we are being discriminated against. It is that Christians are treated as second-class citizens.
And that is precisely the point a strong majority of the Supreme Court tackled. Christians are due respect, too, they ruled. The Entitlement Clause of the Constitution means that government will not support any one religion over another. It does not mean the government can discriminate against any one religion, the justices emphasized.
Far from having our beliefs labeled as so flawed that those of others automatically are more important, Christians are entitled to a fair hearing, the court decided. We can’t be discriminated against, either.
It’s true that the court did not state specifically that Phillips has the right to refuse service to some people.
But what it did may be more important. Justices were not merely chastising the choice of language of some CCRC members. They were stating that a Christian’s beliefs merit consideration instead of the blatant, complete dismissal that greeted Phillips.
In effect, the high court ruled that CCRC members have demonstrated they cannot be fair to Phillips. Should the commission take his case up again, its members would have to tread on broken glass to demonstrate fairness.
In effect, the CCRC held that Christians have no First Amendment rights when dealing with certain situations because they are Christians.
There was — pardon the pun — icing on the cake later in June. It came when the high court, in a case involving a Seattle florist who refused on religious grounds to provide flowers for a gay wedding, ordered a lower court to check for bias against Christians.
What the nation’s highest court has done, demanding people of faith not be discriminated against, may have been a more important win than some think.
Mike Myer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.