Landmark Cakeshop Case Reaches Supreme Court

Baker argues he shouldn't be forced to make wedding cake for gay couple
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2017 5:34 AM CST
Landmark Cakeshop Case Reaches Supreme Court
In this Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, file photograph, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cake, speaks during a rally on the campus of a Christian college in Lakewood, Colo.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Tuesday in the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case—a divisive and complicated case with ramifications that go far beyond the world of baked goods. Lower courts found Colorado baker Jack Phillips guilty of violating anti-discrimination laws when he refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012. He argues that as a Christian, he shouldn't be forced to create a cake that violates his religious beliefs. The case is seen as one that will set important precedents for both gay rights and religious freedom. Here's what you need to know:

  • The background. Just about the only thing the two sides agree on is that this case is about more than cake, the AP reports. LGBT activists say that victory for Phillips, who refused the cake request from Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, would open the door to widespread discrimination. Phillips, who has the support of the Trump administration, argues that he is an artist, and artists should be free to choose what they will create and what they won't "without fear of being unjustly punished by the government."

  • The stakes. The case is more likely to affect commercial regulation than the culture wars, according to Fortune, which notes that the Trump administration is supporting Phillips' free-speech argument, not his case for religious liberty. If the court ends up deciding that selling a product constitutes "speech" protected under the First Amendment, a new wave of lawsuits could challenge "basic elements of commercial law."
  • The key principle. According to Slate, the key principle in the case, that of whether "the First Amendment can be wielded as a defense against full compliance with anti-discrimination laws" was decided in the 1968 Newman vs. Piggie Park case, when the court ruled against a white supremacist in South Carolina who argued that his religious beliefs against racial integration allowed him to ban African Americans from eating in his BBQ restaurants.
  • The swing vote. Both sides are likely to tailor their arguments to try to sway Justice Anthony Kennedy, who tends to decide cases where there is a deep split between conservatives and liberals, the AP notes. He is the author of the court's most important LGBT rights ruling, but is also a strong defender of free-speech rights.
  • A controversial compromise. In a detailed look at what it calls the "most important cake in America," Politico suggests a possible compromise that "recognizes the importance of both interests": allowing businesses to broadcast the fact that they are opposed to gay marriage or other issues, but not allowing them to actually refuse service based on those beliefs.
  • No winners? In an op-ed at the Washington Post, political science professor Greg Weiner argues that whoever wins the ruling, both sides will lose. LGBT activists "can hope for a pyrrhic victory at best. Conscientious objectors to same-sex weddings may be pressed into service, but only at the long-range cost of intensifying their opposition," he writes. "A vindication of religious liberty, meanwhile, would tarnish that value, however unfairly, with the taint of discrimination."
(More Masterpiece Cakeshop stories.)

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