Has talk of wedding cakes been clogging up your news feed? If so, it is probably because last week the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, a cake artist in Colorado, and reversed the government’s decision to punish him for running his business in accordance with his religious convictions.
The much-anticipated case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission has triggered a flurry of opinion pieces and social media posts—many relying on false information. Here are three common myths about the decision and why they are misguided.
Myth 1: Jack Phillips discriminates.
Jack serves everyone. What he can’t do is express messages or celebrate events contrary to his faith.
When a same-sex couple came into Jack’s shop requesting a custom-designed wedding cake, he offered to sell them anything else in his shop or design a cake for a different event. But he could not design a custom wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage because of his religious beliefs about marriage. In the past, Jack has also declined to make cakes celebrating divorce, Halloween cakes, anti-American cakes, and cakes that disparage others.
It’s not the person requesting the cake that Jack objects to—it’s the message that it communicates or the event that it celebrates.
That was lost on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, however. One commissioner went so far as to compare Jack’s efforts to protect his religious freedom to arguments raised by Nazis, claiming that his religious objection was a “despicable piece of rhetoric.”
In his majority opinion in Masterpiece, Kennedy condemns this type of response to religious beliefs like Jack’s as “clear and impermissible hostility toward sincere religious beliefs.”
To argue, as the commission did, that Jack is refusing to serve entire groups of people and to compare him to segregationist business owners who refused to serve African Americans is not only deeply offensive, it is intellectually dishonest.
Myth 2: The Supreme Court ruled against civil rights.
After the 7-2 decision was announced, many took to social media to claim that the Supreme Court ruled against protecting the rights of individuals who identify as LGBT. Again, this ignores that Jack serves everyone—he just does not express all messages or celebrate all events.
The couple that came into Jack’s shop had many options. There are at least 42 other cake artists in the Denver area who advertise that they will gladly create cakes for a same-sex wedding. Jack, on the other hand, was told by the commission that he had only two options: celebrate an event that conflicts with his conscience or stop designing wedding cakes altogether.
ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued Jack’s case in front of the Supreme Court, writes in the Washington Post that “dignitary concerns lie on both sides of the case. Few things are more degrading—and more stigmatizing—to people of faith than having their state brand their beliefs unfit for public life.”
The Supreme Court’s decision makes clear that the government must respect the religious beliefs about marriage held by people like Jack. It is a huge step forward in protecting the conscience rights of all Americans.
Myth 3: The Masterpiece ruling will not advance the cause for religious liberty.
The most surprising reaction to the Masterpiece ruling came from a few religious liberty proponents who lamented that the Court’s decision was too narrow. They argue that the Supreme Court’s focus on the government’s hostility toward Jack’s religious beliefs means that similar government agencies can continue to force religious businesses to act against their consciences—just so long as they are polite.
This is a flawed argument, explains ADF attorney James Gottry in the Daily Wire: “The court addressed the commission’s outright hostility towards Jack because it was unavoidable.” As for the argument that Masterpiece will not help other conscience decisions, Gottry says, “to the extent that the opinion provides some guideposts for the determination in future contexts, it does not forecast a defeat for First Amendment freedoms. To the contrary, the boundary lines that have been sketched out leave ample space for a two-way street of tolerance.”
And it is not just ADF attorneys who see a bright future for First Amendment freedoms in light of Masterpiece. John Eastman of the Claremont Institute writes in The Federalist that the decision breathes new life into the Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause after years of neglect.
David French of National Review notes how remarkable it is that Justice Kennedy—the author of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision nationalizing same-sex marriage—gave such a vehement condemnation of government hostility towards religious individuals who decline to participate in same-sex weddings. With that, French says, “Kennedy did give people of faith a lasting gift.”
While it may not have definitively settled all cases like it, the Masterpiece bodes well for the future of First Amendment freedoms.