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Victory for religious freedom in US as Supreme Court rules in favor of Colorado baker

US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Credit: Keith Survell/Flickr/Creative Commons

US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Credit: Keith Survell/Flickr/Creative Commons

In 2012, Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver Colorado, was approached by a homosexual couple who wanted Phillips to make a custom wedding cake for their gay wedding. Phillips said no stating that it contravened his beliefs as a Christian.

However, Phillips was willing to make them a birthday cake or any cake for that matter, but was unwilling to decorate it with a message supporting gay marriage.

Citing discrimination, the gay couple took Phillips before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) that eventually ordered Phillips to make the cake and as well required his staff to undergo re-education training.

However, Phillips decided to take the case to the courts. Initially, he lost his cases in the Colorado courts who ruled in favor of the CCRC’s decision.

After the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear Phillips’ appeal, with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Phillips petitioned the US Supreme Court in July 2016, the highest court in the US.

In June 2017, the court agreed to hear the case in and in an overwhelming 7-2 decision in June 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled in Phillips’ favor saying that under the constitution he was not required to make a cake supporting gay marriage if it violated his sincerely held religious beliefs.

The court understood the complexities of the issue. How do you balance conflicting rights? Does an individual under the constitution have freedom of religion in the US? This had to be balanced with the gay couple who insisted they were facing discrimination because Phillips would not make their wedding cake, even though he was willing to make them other cakes.

In coming to its conclusion, the Supreme Court ruled that Phillips had not only been treated unfairly but even with hostility because of his religious beliefs:

“The commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case … showed elements of a clear and permissible hostility towards the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection. As the records show, some of the commissioners at the commission’s formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips’ faith as despicable and characterize it as merely rehtorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.”

The court also noted that in three earlier cases, the CCRC had ruled in favor of bakers who had refused to decorate cakes with themes they disagreed with. But then ruled against Phillips for similarly disagreeing to decorate a cake because of his sincerely held religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court stated that Phillips was “entitled to a neutral and respectful consideration of his claims in all the circumstances of this case.”

When asked on the Today Show after the victory if he now had the right to discriminate against gays, Jack Phillips said:

“I serve everybody. I don’t discriminate against anybody. It’s just that I don’t create cakes for every occasion that people ask me to create … a wedding is just an inherently religious event and the cake is definitely a specific message that goes with that.

“I wouldn’t create a cake that would be anti-American or disparaging against anybody for any reason. Even cakes that would disparage people who identify as LGBT. Cakes have a message”

Phillips’ story reminds me of the account involving Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, three Jewish men living in Babylonian captivity along with Daniel. After Daniel gained a prominent role in Nebuchadnezzar’s court after successfully interpreting a dream, Daniel appointed the three Jewish men to serve as administrators.

The three got into trouble after Nebuchadnezzar produced a giant, golden idol and passed an edict requiring everyone to bow down and worship it. When the three Jewish men refused, Babylonians who were obviously in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, told the Babylonian king what had happened.

For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. (Daniel 3:8 NASV)

However, when Nebuchadnezzar tried to execute them, God intervened sparing their lives.

The three Jewish men were wanting the freedom to worship the way they wanted, but the state was requiring them to violate their conscience. It is curious to note that Daniel had previously been granted the religious freedom to follow Jewish dietary laws (Daniel 1:8) while serving in Nebuchadnezzar’s court.

Jack Phillips was wanting the same freedom to practice his religion. In this case, his religious rights are supposedly protected under the US Constitution and not by the fickle whims of some despot.

Though Phillips won the court battle, he lost his cake shop in the process. He and his family also received death threats. There was a cost to winning this battle.

Paul encourages us to pray for Kings and all those in authority (this includes judges) “that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2 NASV).


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