Supreme Court Tosses Gay-Bias Finding Against Wedding-Cake Baker

HIGH STAKES The U.S. Supreme Court could decide some blockbuster cases today as the term nears its end. AP file

The court took issue with a Colorado commission and its treatment of Phillips.

The court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed hostility toward the baker based on his religious beliefs.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who did not join Kennedy's opinion, wrote a separate concurrence suggesting that the baker's case precisely reflected conflict between gay marriage and free speech.

Baker Jack Phillips had argued that cake-baking is constitutionally protected free speech and that sanctioning him for refusing to bake for a same-sex marriage violated his constitutional right to free exercise of religion. "Importantly, the Court reaffirmed that there is no general constitutional exemption from civil rights laws just because a person has a religious or philosophical objection to them".

"I tried to respectfully apologize that I couldn't create this cake", he said.

"The Colorado Civil Rights Commission's consideration of this case was inconsistent with the State's obligation of religious neutrality", Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, referring to the state authority that sided with the couple after they filed a complaint.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kristen Waggoner represented Phillips in oral arguments, noting that the court "has never compelled artistic expression, and doing so here would lead to less civility, diversity, and freedom for everyone, no matter their views on marriage".

"The Court's precedents make clear that the baker, in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public, might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws", he wrote. The Arizona-based group brought suits on a behalf of a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington state and the Colorado baker whose case reached the Supreme Court. "But only, as the Court rightly says, if the State's decisions are not infected by religious hostility or bias". The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips' rights under the First Amendment.

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"What matters is that Phillips would not provide a good or service to a same-sex couple that he would provide to a heterosexual couple", Ginsburg said.

He appealed the state's decision, but lost in the Colorado courts.

"The government, consistent with the Constitution's guarantee of free exercise, can not impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and can not act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices", the opinion continued.

Colorado is one of 22 states whose civil rights laws require businesses that are open to the public to serve all customers on an equal basis and without regard to their sexual orientation.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented from the court's ruling, in an opinion joined only by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

A completely different case that trolled those who wanted to force the baker to make the cake ended up being relevant to the decision.

Intriguingly, the decision can be understood as a hint that President Donald Trump's Muslim travel ban may be struck down later this month, as the travel ban can be read as expressing hostility to Muslims.

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