The Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Case Has Huge Implications for Businesses: Here is What You Need to Know
In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins wanted to order a wedding cake from Denver-based bakery Masterpiece Cakeshop. The bakery’s owner Jack Phillips refused to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding on the basis of his religious beliefs.
The case was brought to court, and is now being heard before the U.S. Supreme Court as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, with arguments starting today.
How did the case reach the top court?
Craig and Mullins took their complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which ruled that Phillips's refusal of the couple’s request violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and that he didn’t have a free speech right to decline their cake order.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the ruling but Phillips appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case.
According to SCOTUSblog, Phillips believes that the ruling as it stands impinges on “his and all like minded believers’ freedom to live out their religious identity in the public square.” He also believes that the ruling threatens “expressive freedom of all who create art or other speech for a living.” Phillips’ interpretation of the First Amendment includes visual art, which he believes that his creations, while temporary, fall under. He holds that the First Amendment prevents Colorado from requiring him to design cakes with messages that are against his beliefs, and punishing him if he does not comply.
Related: What You Need to Understand About the Google Firing and Free Speech at Work
Who is weighing in?
The Trump administration has filed an amicus, “friend of the court” brief, in support of Phillips. In its brief, the Department of Justice wrote, “Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights.”
The Human Rights Campaign has filed two amicus briefs in support of Craig and Mullins.
The first HRC brief was from “Chefs for Equality,” a group of 240 food industry leaders from across the country with the message that “businesses must welcome all. If a business is open on main street, it must be open to everyone, regardless of who they are or whom they love.” The brief was signed by people such as Jose Andres, Anthony Bourdain, Carla Hall, Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio. A second brief was signed by a number of companies, including Airbnb, American Airlines, Apple, Ben & Jerry's, Intel, Lyft, Marriott, Uber and Yelp.
Chase Strangio, staff attorney for the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, wrote in a blog post about the legal proceedings, “it is wrong to think that (1) any business that involves a creative component should be exempt from nondiscrimination laws, or (2) that a business is somehow endorsing each and every customer it serves.”
What are the ramifications of the case?
Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of Phillips, there is a concern that a precedent could be set that non-discrimination laws could be seen as violating business owners’ first amendment freedoms of religion of speech, opening the door to businesses being able to legally refuse to serve people on the basis of their beliefs, religious or otherwise.
However, the case will likely not be decided right away. It could take up to a year to come to a verdict.