The Supreme Court overturned a decision by Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission, ruling 7-2 that it violated the free exercise of rights by a Christian baker. The baker and owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop refused to bake a cake for a gay couple getting married in Massachusetts.
Freedom of speech and religion vs. civil rights
According to the ABA Journal, the Court’s decision stressed that it saw the free speech and religious beliefs of the baker/owner of the shop weighed against the obligation to protect the rights and dignity of gays and others who wish to pay for goods and services.
According to the majority decision, “Whatever the confluence of speech and free exercise principles might be in some cases,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, “the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the state’s obligation of religious neutrality.”
While it was stated to be a case hinging in freedom of speech, Kennedy focused on the treatment and language used in the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, particularly in reference to religion being used as a means for discrimination throughout history.
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked: “What prejudice infected the determinations of the adjudicators in the case before and after the commission? The court does not say.”
The gay couple had filed a discrimination complaint in 2012, after the baker informed them of his decision, which is well before the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 2015 guaranteeing the constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
This 2018 ruling is hailed as a victory for those who advocate for religious liberty, while also addressing the rules preventing discrimination in the marketplace, including cases of the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
An attorney can defend the rights of a business
Discrimination and harassment laws are sometimes straightforward, but as this case illustrates, oftentimes different laws can be intertwined or seemingly in opposition of each other. It is advisable for large businesses and small individually owned ones like Master Bakery to consult with an attorney if there are issues of discrimination or religious freedom in your place of business.
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