U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision - Activate World

U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision


On June 4, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who, years ago, refused to make a custom cake for a same-sex couple because it would violate his religious beliefs. In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins went to Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a cake to celebrate their upcoming wedding. Phillips, the owner of the bakery and a devout Christian, refused the couple’s request because he was not willing to design custom cakes that conflict with his religious beliefs.

A Colorado civil-rights agency ruled that Phillips had violated the state’s antidiscrimination laws and told him that if he made cakes for opposite-sex weddings, he would have to do the same for same-sex weddings. After a Colorado court upheld that ruling, Phillips went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017.

At the center of the case was the question of “religious refusals” – whether, and when, a “sincerely held religious belief” justifies denying certain people certain services or privileges. Jack Phillips sought what LGBT advocates have characterized as a “constitutional right to discriminate,” saying that he should not be forced to “use the talents that I have to create an artistic expression that violates my faith.”

The Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision declined to identify that right, ruling instead on much narrower legal grounds specific to Phillips’ case. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said Phillips had been unfairly treated by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission at an earlier stage of the lawsuit. Other religious refusal cases, Kennedy wrote, “must await further elaboration in the courts.”


  • The court passed on the opportunity to either bolster the right to same sex marriage or explain how far the government can go in regulating businesses run on religious principles.
  • Conservatives praised the ruling as a vindication of religious liberty and free speech.
  • LGBT advocates focused on language in the decision suggesting that future cases could be decided differently.

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • Which laws should be given more weight? Those protecting civil rights and barring businesses from discrimination based on sexual orientation or those that defend free speech and religious freedom?
  • Will this decision allow businesses across the country to argue that they too can refuse service based on who the customer is?
  • The Colorado couple sued the baker under the state’s public accommodation law, a statewide anti-discrimination statue. Which five states lack this type of protection for their citizens?

Sources: BrookingsCNNSCOTUSblogTexas TribuneNYTimesVox

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash