Court seems divided in cake case examining religious rights, expression

Baker Jack Phillips decorates a cake in his Masterpiece Cakeshop Sept. 21 in Lakewood, Colo. The Supreme Court was set to hear oral arguments Dec. 5 in the case of the baker who cited religious freedom in his refusal to design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. CNS photo | Rick Wilking, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Supreme Court seemed equally divided in the long-anticipated oral arguments Dec. 5 about the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

Even Justice Anthony Kennedy’s comments went right down the middle, from expressing concern for those who would be shut out of services to later stressing that “tolerance is a two-way street” and saying the state of Colorado, where the bakery is located, seemed to be “neither tolerant or respectful” of the baker’s views.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, pits anti-discrimination laws against freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression.

It drew strong feelings on both sides long before the court heard the arguments with the filing of 100 friend-of-the-court briefs months ago and the crowds lined up for days hoping to get into the court during the arguments. Crowds also gathered on the Supreme Court steps under cloudy skies and warm temperatures, chanting and holding aloft placards such as “Justice for Jack” (the baker) and “Open for All.”

The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a friend-of-the court brief in support of the baker joined by the Colorado Catholic Conference, Catholic Bar Association, Catholic Medical Association, National Association of Catholic Nurses-USA and National Catholic Bioethics Center.

And after the hour and a half of oral arguments, chairmen of three USCCB committees issued a statement saying: “America has the ability to serve every person while making room for valid conscientious objection.”

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