On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled on what may have been one of its most important cases of the current term. Denver cake baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, claimed that his Christian beliefs didn’t allow him to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. After the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled against him, Phillips appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Supremes ruled in Phillips’ favor, causing the religious right to skip and dance for joy.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Phillips, was particularly ecstatic. Its social media team spent most of the week tweeting merrily about how this case was a victory for all Americans.
But unless you get your news mostly from Christian talk radio, you would know that this ruling is not nearly as sweeping as the ADF and the religious right would have you believe.
The Supremes punted on the broader non-discrimination and First Amendment issues Phillips raised. Instead, they issued a very narrow finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission displayed improper bias against Phillips’ religious beliefs. Two of the court’s liberals, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, were so troubled by the way the commission treated Phillips that they joined swing justice Anthony Kennedy and the court’s conservatives in ruling for Phillips.
But Kennedy’s opinion contained a clear warning to any baker–or any business(wo)man, for that matter–who thinks this ruling is carte blanche to discriminate against LGBT customers. It reaffirmed that same-sex and transgender couples have the right to protection under anti-discrimination laws. Indeed, Kennedy indicated that he would have ruled for the commission if it had handled the case in a more neutral manner.
If the ADF didn’t already know this was the case, it certainly found out on Thursday. An Arizona appeals court told a Phoenix calligraphy studio that it can’t discriminate against LGBT customers–and cited the cake baker case in its ruling.
In 2016, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, sought to throw out Phoenix’ non-discrimination ordinance. Duka and Koski are devout Christians, and didn’t want to be forced to create wedding invitations for LGBT couples. When a state superior court judge ruled against them, Duka and Koski took their case to the Arizona Court of Appeals. The ADF profiled them last month; watch here.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals sided with Phoenix, finding that allowing businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation would amount to “a grave and continuing harm.” The appeals panel then quoted extensively from Kennedy’s opinion in the cake baker case.
For instance, it noted that religious objections to same-sex marriage are not a reason to “deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.” To allow a business to refuse to serve a customer on account of sexual orientation, it added, would create “a community-wide stigma” inconsistent with federal and state civil rights law. For these reasons, the panel was not willing to sanction Brush & Nib’s attempt to “use their religion as a shield to discriminate against potential customers.”
Strangely, even though the appeals panel quoted extensively from Masterpiece Cakeshop, the ADF announced plans to appeal on the basis that the appeals ruling actually ran counter to the Supremes’ recent ruling. Au contraire, ADF. If you actually read Kennedy’s ruling, you would have seen that it reaffirmed that LGBT Americans have rights that must be respected. Thursday’s appellate ruling only served to underscore this principle.
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