WASHINGTON — Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker and a devout Christian, can return to the job he once loved but was forced to quit after a years-long legal battle pitted religious liberty advocates against supporters of same-sex marriage.
In a 7-2 ruling Monday, the Supreme Court agreed with Phillips, saying the state of Colorado overstepped its legal limits by trying to force him to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony, which violated his religious beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner praised the ruling saying, "Government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society, yet the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack's religious beliefs about marriage. The court was right to condemn that."
The gay men who sued Phillips, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission after visiting Phillips’ shop in 2012, arguing that the denial was a violation of the state's anti-discrimination act.
But the majority of the justices saw that argument as overreach.
"To describe a man's faith as 'one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use' is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere. The commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips' invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his opinion for the majority.
Craig and Mullins reacted to Monday's ruling, saying, "We have always believed that in America, you should not be turned away from a business open to the public because of who you are. We brought this case because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment, and humiliation of being told, ‘We don’t serve your kind here’ that we faced, and we will continue fighting until no one does."
Meanwhile, Phillips has maintained his refusal to bake a cake wasn't about discrimination, but rather about adhering to his Christian faith.
In 2014, he told CBN News, "I told David and Charlie when they came in that I would sell them cookies and brownies and birthday cakes and shower cakes. I just don't do the same-sex wedding cake. So I did not discriminate against them, just that event I've chosen not to participate in."
The high court's decision reverses lower court rulings that sided with the commission, which ruled in the couple's favor and against Phillips.
"The record here demonstrates that the commission's consideration of Phillips' case was neither tolerant nor respectful of Phillips' religious beliefs. The commission gave 'every appearance,' of adjudicating Phillips' religious objection based on a negative normative 'evaluation of the particular justification' for his objection and the religious grounds for it," Kennedy wrote.
"This sentiment is inappropriate for a commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado's anti-discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation," the opinion continues.
According to the majority opinion, the case highlighted two conflicting principles:
"The first is the authority of a state and its governmental entities to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services. The second is the right of all persons to exercise fundamental freedoms under the First Amendment, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment."
Phillips operated his store, Masterpiece Cakeshop, for 20 years and closed it during the legal fight. He argued he used "his artistic skills to make an expressive statement, a wedding endorsement in his own voice and of his own creation" – telling CBN News his creations, from cookies and cupcakes to signature cakes, are all inspired and motivated by his faith in Jesus Christ.
"It's the most important thing that I think about throughout the day. When I wake up, when I go to work, I want to know what I'm doing is pleasing to Him, that I honor Him and His Word because that's the most important thing," Phillips told CBN News.
Phillips’ supporters quickly praised the ruling.
“The Supreme Court is right,” Russell Moore, a leading figure with the Southern Baptist Convention, said on Twitter. “I’m not surprised by the SCOTUS Masterpiece decision, but I am surprised by how strongly worded the rebuke is to the 'hostility' toward religious people’s viewpoints from the state of Colorado.”
The Supreme Court is right: the state should not compel people to use their artistic gifts for speech that goes against their deepest-held convictions.
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) June 4, 2018
“As Americans, we have these debates, sometimes contentious, about the meaning of marriage, without using the coercive leavers of the states to force people to say what they cannot, in good conscience, say,” he added.
"A 7-2 ruling is a strong affirmation of the central importance of religious liberty to our nation," said @DrJerryJohnson, president & CEO of NRB, regarding the #SCOTUS decision. #JusticeForJack #MasterpieceCakeshophttps://t.co/SwKR6lQYT5
— NRB (@NRBAssociation) June 4, 2018
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor broke with the other justices, stating they "strongly disagree . . . with the court's conclusion that Craig and Mullins should lose this case."
While the court agreed that the commission's "hostility" toward Phillips was inconsistent with the First Amendment, Justice Kennedy, who wrote the 2015 majority opinion that effectively allowed same-sex marriage in the United States, hinted to future rulings concerning similar cases.
"The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved 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," he concluded.