Court seems divided in cake case examining religious rights, expression

It also said it hoped the court would continue to “preserve the ability of people to live out their faith in daily life, regardless of their occupation,” noting that artists “deserve to have the freedom to express ideas — or to decline to create certain messages — in accordance with their deeply held beliefs.”

The statement was issued by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

The case before the court at the end of 2017 was five years in the making, beginning in 2012 when Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, to make a cake for their wedding reception. Phillips refused, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to create a cake honoring their marriage.

The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which decided the baker’s action violated state law. The decision was upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Colorado Supreme Court wouldn’t take the case, letting the ruling stand. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

During oral arguments at the high court, many questions came up about what constitutes speech, since the baker claimed he should have freedom of speech protection.

Justice Elena Kagan asked if a florist, chef or makeup artist also should have the same protection and other roles also were called into question such as tailors, or invitation designers, as were other cakes; pre-made cakes, for example, would not be an issue of compelled speech.

And as Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney representing Phillips, said “not all cakes would be considered speech.”

Amid the back and forth between what could be considered artistry and questions about how artists could be compelled to convey messages they disagree with, Justice Stephen G. Breyer asked: “Well, then, what is the line? That’s what everybody is trying to get at.”

“Obviously, we want a distinction that will not undermine every single civil rights law,” he added.

The bulk of the defense for the baker focused on his freedom of speech rights, which attorneys argued would be violated by forcing him to make this cake.

Waggoner said the court was saying it had the discretion to decide what speech is offensive and what isn’t, but it didn’t “apply that in a fair way to Mr. Phillips.” She also said that “what’s deeply concerning” is how speech could be compelled of “filmmakers, oil painters and graphic designers in all kinds of context.”
The arguments against the baker questioned if failing to provide services to same-sex couples was discriminatory.

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