Supreme Court Grapples with First Amendment Case

The U.S. Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, one of the most high-profile cases of this term. As in a number of cases, observers are seeking clues as to which argument Justice Anthony Kennedy, in particular, may find more convincing.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was ordered by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to create custom cakes for same-sex ceremonies even though they communicated a message in violation of his religious beliefs. The commission also included in its order a requirement for Phillips to file quarterly compliance reports demonstrating that he had re-educated his staff about state nondiscrimination law. That ruling was ultimately upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, Justice Kennedy, author of the 5-4 Obergefell ruling transforming the government’s definition of marriage in 2015, expressed concern about a result in this case that could lead to actions that would be an “affront to the gay community.” However, he was also critical of the way Colorado had behaved. “Tolerance is essential in a free society,” he said. “And tolerance is most meaningful when it's mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips's religious beliefs.”

In a call to prayer on the day of the oral argument, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, said, “Jack is on the front lines for us all as we desire to live in a truly free society tolerant of a biblical worldview.”

NRB member Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented Masterpiece Cakeshop before the court. Following the hearing, Phillips told ADF:

The most important thing that I’ve learned is God’s sovereignty through all of this. He orchestrates everything according to His time, if we’re just patient. We see that’s always been the case, and He does what He will do in His time. And we know He will work His will out through all of this going forward. It’s not over yet, and we will just keep trusting and watching Him every day to see what He has for us.

A ruling in this case is anticipated by summer.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: December 8, 2017


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