On Monday, June 4, the U.S. Supreme Court provided a limited ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips who refused to make a wedding cake for same-sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012. The justices voted 7-2 that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips’ First Amendment rights when it initially ruled against him.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the larger issue “must await further elaboration” in the courts. Appeals in similar cases are pending.
The question presented before the Supreme Court of the United States was whether Colorado’s public accommodations law, Colo. Rev. Stat. 24-34-601(2)(a) (2016), violates the First Amendment as applied to an individual who declines to design and create custom wedding cakes for same-sex wedding celebrations that violate his sincerely held religious beliefs.
This case involved two competing interests: an individual’s right to speak or remain silent according to the dictates of his or her conscience, and the government’s desire to combat discrimination in commercial transactions, according to the petition to the Supreme Court.
For nearly 25 years, petitioner Jack Phillips has owned and operated petitioner Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc., a Denver, Colorado, bakery that creates and sells custom cakes and other baked goods. Phillips is a Christian who seeks to incorporate his religious principles into all facets of his business, according to the petition. To that end, for example, he closes Masterpiece on Sundays, refuses to sell goods containing alcohol, and chooses not to create or sell goods relating to Halloween.
According to the petition, Phillips believes that he can honor God through the creative aspects of his business, including the design and creation of custom wedding cakes. Phillips views the creation of custom wedding cakes as a form of art, to which he devotes his creativity and artistic talents.
“I’m happy to sell a cake to anyone, whatever his or her sexual identity. People should be free to make their own moral choices. I don’t have to agree with them,” Phillips told USA Today. “But I am responsible for my own choices. And it was that responsibility that led me to decline when two gentlemen came into my shop and invited me to create a wedding cake for their same-sex ceremony.
“Designing a wedding cake is a very different thing from, say, baking a brownie. When people commission such a cake, they’re requesting something that’s designed to express something about the event and about the couple. What a cake celebrating this event would communicate was a message that contradicts my deepest religious convictions, and as an artist, that’s just not something I’m able to do, so I politely declined.”
In a brief submitted by a group of 222 chefs, bakers, and restaurateurs to the Supreme Court of the United States in support of the respondents, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, they argued that the First Amendment does not allow a chef, baker, or other culinary artist to refuse to provide a generally offered service based on the identity of the customer.
The group identified themselves as amici in the brief, which was filed Oct. 30, 2017, and included such leading names as Anthony Bourdain and bakers Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes, Christina Tosi of Milk Bar, Josey Baker of Josey Baker Bread, Natalia Banjac of Nothing Bundt Cakes, Christina Barber of Velvet Sky Bakery, Meagan Benz of Crust Vegan Bakery, Pamela Berry of Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery, John Blomgren of Back to Eden Bakery, Sandra Bubbert of The Acadian Bakers, Lisa Dougherty of Buttercup Cakes LLC, Jana Douglass of Happy Chicks Bakery, Nicole Endrikat Matos of Queen Bee Pastry, Nima Etemadi and Lily Fischer of Cake Life Bake Shop, Katina Foster of Sweet Magnolias Bake Shop, Randy George of Red Hen Baking Co., and Teri Scheff of Artrageous Desserts.
“Notwithstanding the talent and skill required to create fine cuisine, and the expression that may flow from it, amici acknowledge that food preparation is not a core First Amendment activity,” the brief stated. “Even when prepared by celebrated chefs, food retains a clear purpose apart from its expressive component: it is made to be eaten. For that reason, food products (and their preparation) are not necessarily protected by the First Amendment.
“There is no basis in law or logic to carve out an exception to these norms for weddings or for wedding cakes. That is particularly true where, as here, the refusal to serve a same-sex couple extends to making any wedding cake—including one identical in every way to that offered to opposite-sex couples. Contrary to petitioners’ contention, the centrality of a cake in a wedding celebration does not inevitably associate the baker with the celebration or the couple getting married. Rather, as this Court has repeatedly recognized, audiences can separate the views of a speaker (here, the couple celebrating their marriage) from the perspective of one who is providing a generally available service in compliance with the law.”
According to the Supreme Court petition, given that understanding of his work, Phillips will not design and create a custom wedding cake for a celebration of a union that conflicts with his religious beliefs. He believes that to create a wedding cake celebrating a marriage that directly contradicts his religious convictions would be “a personal endorsement and participation in ceremony and relationship” that he does not condone.
In July 2012, respondents Charlie Craig and David Mullins visited Masterpiece Cakeshop and asked Phillips to “design and create a cake to celebrate their same-sex wedding.” At the time, Colorado declined to recognize either same-sex marriages or same-sex civil unions, so the couple planned to marry in Massachusetts and later host a wedding reception in Colorado.
Craig and Mullins sat down with Phillips at Masterpiece’s “cake consulting table” and told him that they wanted a cake for “our wedding.” Phillips informed the couple that he does not create wedding cakes for same-sex weddings, but that he would make them any other type of cake or other baked good. Craig and Mullins immediately left the store. The next day, Craig’s mother called the bakery, and Phillips advised her that he does not create wedding cakes for same-sex weddings because of his religious beliefs and because Colorado did not recognize same-sex marriages.
Craig and Mullins eventually obtained a wedding cake with rainbow-colored layers from another bakery, which they used in their cake-cutting ceremony. Craig and Mullins later filed charges of discrimination with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, alleging that petitioners had discriminated against them on the basis of their sexual orientation. Following an investigation, the Colorado Civil Rights Division determined there was probable cause to believe that petitioners had violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.
Craig and Mullins then filed a formal complaint with the Office of Administrative Courts. In response, Phillips contended that he had not discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and that applying Colorado’s public accommodations law in this case would infringe on constitutionally protected free-speech and free-exercise rights. An administrative law judge granted summary judgment in favor of Craig and Mullins. After concluding that a refusal to create a cake for a same-sex wedding constituted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under Colorado law, the judge dismissed petitioners’ free-speech objections. On appeal, respondent Colorado Civil Rights Commission adopted the judge’s decision in full.
The Supreme Court case concerned the application of the First Amendment to a state statute that bars discrimination in places of public accommodation on the basis of several protected characteristics. The United States has a substantial interest in the preservation of constitutional rights of free expression. It also has a substantial interest in the application of such rights in the context of the state statute here, which shares certain features with federal public accommodations laws.
The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination across a variety of contexts, including in places of public accommodation. As relevant here, the statute provides:
“It is a discriminatory practice and unlawful for a person, directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from, or deny to an individual or a group, because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry, the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation.”