Supreme Court Blows Opportunity to Reaffirm Civil Rights in Cakeshop Ruling Punt


For Immediate Release: June 4, 2018
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

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Citing the missed opportunity to shore up Americans’ civil rights, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) expressed frustration and disappointment with today’s ruling by the Supreme Court overturning the finding of discrimination by the state against the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, Jack Phillips, who refused to make a wedding cake for a same sex couple claiming it would go against his religious beliefs.

When Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins came to Phillips’ store, seeking a wedding cake for their upcoming union, he refused to even discuss designs with them. The couple reported him, and Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission, followed by its Court of Appeals, determined that he had unlawfully discriminated against them because they were gay.

“The Supreme Court missed a major chance today to reaffirm decades of civil rights jurisprudence,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Legal Director. “Jack Phillips opens his business to the public. He doesn’t get to decide to refuse to serve gay people, or interracial couples, or people of different religions.”

The Court ruled 7-2 in a narrow decision authored by Justice Kennedy that because of language used by one of the hearing officers from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, there was sufficient evidence of hostility to Phillips’ religious beliefs to suggest he had not received a fair hearing.

“The Court has focused on comments made in the state proceedings, and in so doing has granted privilege based on religion,” added Little. “Phillips received a fair hearing by both the commission and the appeals court. An individual’s displeasure that religion should be used as an excuse to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens doesn’t change that.”

“The underlying facts of this case are clear,” said Little. “Religious preferences don’t provide businesses an excuse to ignore civil rights legislation. It’s just a shame the Court couldn’t bring itself to say so. Instead states have been told they must show neutrality towards religion, but have been given no guidance on how to do that in the face of religiously based desires to discriminate.”

CFI submitted an amicus brief in this case arguing that religious privilege should not be held to trump the rights of individuals to equal treatment by businesses. That brief can be read here.

“Unfortunately, the Court has provided us with no clarity,” said Robyn Blumner, CFI’s President and CEO. “Americans need our courts to defend anti-discrimination laws. Religion must not be used as an excuse to opt out of the law.”

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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.