Religious Right Seeks Broader “License to Discriminate” from Supreme Court in New “Cake Shop” Case


For Immediate Release: October 25, 2018
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) condemned a petition to the Supreme Court filed by the First Liberty Institute on behalf of Oregon bakers seeking exemptions from that state’s anti-discrimination laws, characterizing it as an attempt to make ‘religion’ a magic word to excuse bigotry. Despite the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, the religious right is continuing to seek to compel states to allow businesses to opt out of civil rights laws based on their religious preferences.

In Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the petitioners seek to reverse an Oregon state court decision that held a bakery owned by Christians, Sweetcakes by Melissa, had violated Oregon’s public accommodations law when it refused to provide a cake for a wedding of a lesbian couple.

“The religious right hasn’t even waited for the ink to dry on Masterpiece Cakeshop. Justice Kavanaugh hasn’t even warmed his seat before they try to roll back protection for the LGBTQ community,” said Jason Lemieux, CFI’s Director of Government Affairs. “Once again, they are warping the Constitution by attempting to replace religious freedom for every individual with religious privilege for a handful. Their aim is to make ‘religion’ a magic word that places their bigotry above our country’s anti-discrimination laws.”

CFI explained that the religious right is seeking a much more broad license to discriminate than in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. The petition calls for the 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith, written by Justice Scalia, to be overturned. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that while the Constitution permitted the government to grant religious exemptions to generally applicable laws (there, the criminal law against ingesting peyote), it did not require such an exemption to be granted. In 1993, Congress sought to extend such exemptions by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), but the Supreme Court later ruled this applied only to actions by the federal government, not the states.

“Justice Scalia was right to rule that the Constitution says our laws apply to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel“The First Liberty Institute seeks to overturn that fundamental principle, and assert that someone’s religion allows them to ignore civil rights laws which exist to protect discriminated against groups.”

CFI submitted an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop and will seek to defend secular governance in this case.

“There is no basis in the Constitution for First Liberty Institute’s claim that the Free Exercise Clause is a Get Out of Jail Free card when it comes to obeying civil rights laws and not discriminating against other Americans,” continued Little. “This would eviscerate the Establishment Clause, allowing businesses to use religion to refuse to provide service to people of disfavored sexual orientations, genders, or races; to refuse to pay minimum wage; or to obey child labor laws. That’s religious privilege writ large, and CFI won’t allow it to become further entrenched in our legal system.”

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.