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Why the Supreme Court's Colorado Christian Baker Ruling Doesn't Put an End to This Issue


WASHINGTON – The justices may have ruled 7-2 in favor of a Christian baker who nearly lost his business after refusing to bake a cake to celebrate a gay wedding, but this big win for Jack Phillips doesn't necessarily clear the way for similar cases.  

Still, it was a day for Phillips, his family and supporters to celebrate.

"We're very excited about the 7-2 decision for Jack Phillips," said Michael Farris, head of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which defended the baker in court. "The court has given him a permanent win."

Big Victory for Religious Liberty

"This is a big win for all Americans, including Americans who believe that marriage is the union of husband and wife, because it's a big win for everyone's religious liberty," Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation declared.    

"The court said 7-2 that the states can't show hostility towards religious believers, including traditional religious believers like Jack Phillips," he said.

ADF lawyer Kristin Waggoner represented Phillips, who's been fighting this for six years and lost half his business over it.

"It has been a long process, but Jack is very relieved to know that he will not have to choose between his convictions and his family business because that is a price no one should have to pay," Waggoner stated.

'Colorado Went Too Far'

Phillips, who had previously served gays without incident, refused to bake and decorate one special cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage.  The couple who wanted the cake sued and Colorado came down on Phillips like a ton of bricks, even attacking him personally.

The justices suggested that's its own kind of intolerance and that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission made the mistake of not protecting the rights of Phillips.

"They (the justices) said the state of Colorado repeatedly disparaged his beliefs, disparaged his religious convictions, used analogies to racists and Nazis in order to show hostility towards Mr. Phillips, and the Constitution does not allow that," Anderson said.

Mat Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, agreed, saying, "Colorado went too far."

"They denigrated the religious faith of Jack Phillips regarding marriage," he told CBN News. " And what the justice said when he was reading the decision is that the First Amendment requires tolerance of a person's faith."

The Supreme Court Chastised Itself

Republican Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford explained, "Where government stepped in and said, 'You have to set aside your beliefs to fit into government's beliefs,' the Supreme Court pushed back on that and said, 'No, your beliefs matter just like the beliefs of any individual within government.' "  

"In fact, the Supreme Court chastised itself and said, 'Hey, we don't set the conscience for the nation here. Individuals do,' " he added.

Regent School of Law Dean Michael Hernandez stated, "The clear message is to the civil rights commissions out in the country: 'Do not treat Christians with contempt. Do not treat them different than you do others that bring their perspectives into the public arena.'"

Staver noted, "This really focused on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission making negative comments about Jack Phillips pertaining to marriage. And they never backed away from that, all the way to United States Supreme Court."

Not All Religious People Were on Phillips' Side

Plenty of gay rights supporters expressed their displeasure outside the high court, with some saying they resent this being described as a religious rights case.   

"As Jews and as people of faith we know this isn't an issue of the Religious Right versus the Secular Left. It certainly shouldn't be," said Arielle Gingold of the group Bend the Arc Jewish Action.

"And we know this is not the true meaning of religious freedom," Gingold continued. "And as a Jew, as a person of faith, I take personally any attempt to use that religion to discriminate against others."

Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of the group Faith in Public Life, told CBN News she's disappointed by the court's decision.

She suggested the ruling "allows some businesses in some circumstances to discriminate in the name of religion. And as a pastor and as a mom, I'm appalled that anyone would discriminate in the name of my precious faith."

The court decided the case on narrow grounds, though.   

Rachel Laser, a lawyer and head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told CBN News, "Today's decision is very narrow.  It's only based on a ruling that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was biased in its own findings. And the court did re-affirm that businesses that are open have to be open to all."

That means this era of prosecuting religious believers who might do something like Phillips did could continue.

Faris said, "A step has been taken in the right direction for them, but we've got a long way to go yet."

"We're going to have to see how the Supreme Court now applies this 7-2 ruling to some of the other cases percolating – cases involving a florist, a photographer, another set of bakers," said the Heritage Foundation's Anderson.

'Disagreement Is Not Discrimination'

Sen. Lankford, however, wasn't sure he agreed with the analysis that this is a narrow ruling.

"I'm not sure I see it that way yet," he told CBN News.  "They were laying down a foundation to say government should be religion-neutral. Over and over and over again, they came back to that."

And that led Anderson to suggest wording for the next court ruling involving conscientious objectors to serving same-sex marriages should read as follows.

"What it should say is disagreement is not discrimination," Anderson said. "We can disagree about gay marriage without hauling each other into court; without the states punishing people for simply acting on their belief that marriage unites husband and wife."
Your Religious Rights Extend Way Beyond the Church

Farris noted that this was a day to celebrate what's been won.

"The court said 'religious people, religious business owners have their rights as well, and tolerance is a two-way street,' " he said.

Folks these days do seem to agree that believers have the freedom to worship.  But believers explain that a truly rich and meaningful spiritual life has to extend way beyond the boundaries of just what you do in church.  They declare it has to permeate every part of your life, including your business. With Monday's 7-2 ruling, the justices seem to agree with that point.

"The activists on the Left want to say that when you enter the marketplace, you have to leave behind your faith," Anderson explained. "But as Justice (Neil) Gorsuch points out in his concurrence, as Justice (Clarence) Thomas points out in his concurrence, the Supreme Court has never said that."  

"The Supreme Court has said that our free speech rights and our free exercise religious rights – they apply at home, in a church or a synagogue or a mosque and in the workplace," he said

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