[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] in the case surrounding a Colorado cake baker [JURIST report] who refused to supply a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission [SCOTUSblog materials] deals with the rights of individuals to deny services to patrons when such services conflict with their religious beliefs [JURIST op-ed].
Jack Phillips who owns the Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to create a cake for same-sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins in violation of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act [text]. Phillips was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and the couple were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado [press releases]. The oral arguments focused on the rights of protected speech as well as the rights of public accommodation.
The lawyer for Phillips argued that he is protected from the over reach of the Colorado law because he is an artisan who creates cakes as a manner of speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Additionally, he asked the court to find a distinction between an artist who creates or designs as a service and one who provides a service to create a religious liberty exception.
Your Honor, I think in that case, the case for strict scrutiny would be much stronger, because you'd be able to show that your -- that the application of the law is narrowly tailored to the government's interests in ensuring access. Here, of course, you have these products that are widely available from many different sources. And I would submit, just to finish up, that if you were to disagree with our basic principle, putting aside the line about whether a cake falls on speech or non-speech side of the line, you really are envisioning a situation in which you could force, for example, a gay opera singer to perform at the Westboro Baptist Church just because that opera singer would be willing to perform at the National Cathedral. And the problem is when you force somebody not only to speak, but to contribute that speech to an expressive event to which they are deeply opposed, you force them to use their speech to send a message that they fundamentally disagree with. And that is at the core of what the First Amendment protects our citizenry against.The respondents argued that places of public accommodation such as storefronts must make available services to all individuals if it was a service they typically provided to their customers.
Once you open this up, once you say generally applicable regulations of conduct have exceptions when someone raises a religious objection, or in this case have objections here someone raises a speech objection, you're in a world in which every man is a law unto himself. And so the only sensible way to approach this is to say if the state is targeting religion, then we're going to be very careful about protecting religion. And if the state is targeting the message, is targeting the content of speech, then we're going to be very careful about protecting. But when the state is regulating conduct neutrally, unrelated to expression, which is what this Court has already said is the case with respect to public accommodations, then we can have a world in which everybody who raises an objection -- otherwise we would live in a society in which businesses across this country could put signs up saying we serve whites only, music lessons for Muslims need not apply, passport photos not for the disabled.