Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Future still murky for Christian bakers

First Amendment | The Supreme Court’s recent decision leaves room for interpretation
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 6/05/18, 12:06 pm

The government cannot coerce Colorado baker Jack Phillips to bake cakes for gay weddings, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, but the future remains uncertain for other Christians in the wedding business. Though seven of nine justices agreed in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission that the commission violated Phillips’ religious freedom, they differed on whether creating a cake amounted to a constitutionally protected act of expression.

A concurring opinion from Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan stated that the First Amendment’s protection for religious freedom applied to making a custom wedding cake but not a generic one. Justice Anthony Kennedy said maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t.

More clarity on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment could help people like Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington state florist waiting to hear whether the high court will take her case. She appealed after the Washington state Supreme Court ruled her refusal to do wedding flowers for a gay couple violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. Stutzman faces financial ruin because lower courts ordered her to pay for the plaintiff’s legal fees.

Bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein are in a similar predicament, though their case is now before the Oregon Supreme Court. “The Kleins, … our clients who were forced to close their bakery after the same [government] hostility towards religious convictions, deserve the same protection,” First Liberty Institute, which represents the Kleins, tweeted Monday.

Earlier this year, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, warned the long-awaited Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling might not settle the dispute between LGBT activists and Christian professionals. “There’s always the possibility that the ruling has enough ambiguity that it creates further litigation,” Moore told WORLD. Masterpiece has been decided, but whether other Christians can count on the courts for protection remains, as Moore predicted, ambiguous.

Facebook Facebook Oklahoma Baptist Univesity

Colleges win additional freedoms

A federal judge ruled May 15 in favor of four Oklahoma Christian colleges that sued the government over the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive and abortifacient mandate.

“The fact that this court did what it did will have some persuasive power for another judge considering a similar request,” said Gregory Baylor, an attorney representing the schools.

Since the case began in 2013, the political scene has changed significantly. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act took effect under then–President Barack Obama. It required businesses and nonprofits to provide employees with health benefits, including contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. If organizations failed to provide those services, they faced fines.

President Donald Trump scratched the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate, aligning the views of the government and the Christian universities. Nevertheless, the schools still needed legal protection because a future president could reverse Trump’s decision, Baylor said.

In addition, Trump’s decision has already been challenged in court and blocked by federal judges. “Therefore, the rules, at present, don’t provide anyone any protection,” Baylor said.

The ruling caps a long legal battle for Mid-America Christian University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Southern Nazarene University. The year after their 2013 filing, the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other privately owned corporations did not have to provide employees with the medications they opposed. But in 2015, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Christian colleges.

The universities, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. When justices saw that the universities may be able to compromise with the Obama administration, they sent the case back to lower courts, but the sides could not reach a settlement. The case was taken up again in U.S. District Court, and this time the schools won. —Emma Dill

Creative Commons/Terry Johnston Creative Commons/Terry Johnston Signs on a shop door in Lansing, Mich.

Creeping definitions

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission took steps this week that could subject Christian bakers, florists, and other professionals to legal challenges similar to that faced by Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

In Phillips’ case, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission tried punish him for objecting to making a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his Biblical beliefs about marriage. In Michigan, the Civil Rights Commission voted 5-1 to broaden the interpretation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to extend anti-discrimination protection to individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT residents can now bring anti-discrimination suits on housing, public accommodations, public services, employment, and educational facilities.

“It is perfectly clear that statutes prohibiting ‘sex discrimination’ were enacted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of biological sex—that is, discrimination against women because they are biologically female or against men because they are biologically male,” said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow with the Family Research Council. “Both ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ are categorically different from ‘sex,’ and therefore are not encompassed by such statutes.”

Sprigg noted that Congress and several state legislatures have rejected such claims. He said the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s expansion of the act posed a danger to governmental checks and balances: “Anyone who supports a constitutional system of separation of powers should oppose this action.” —Sarah-Marie Hoduski

On appeal

The Virginia school district ordered to allow a transgender teen to access the boys restroom has appealed the federal judge’s decision. Gloucester County School Board said in a court filing Friday that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should decide the case. The school board also says the case is moot because the student in question, Gavin Grimm, graduated in June 2017. Lawyers for the board argued in the filing the law should be interpreted to say “that when separating boys and girls on the basis of sex in restrooms and similar facilities, schools may rely on the physiological differences between males and females rather than students’ gender identity.”L.L.

Read more Liberties Sign up for the Liberties email
Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

Read more from this writer


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/06/2018 01:08 am

    Now that subjective identity carries the weight of law, contrary to science and observation, there will be no end to litigation.  Species dysphoria is next on the docket and the rights of "otherkins" will need to be protected.  Those who object will be labeled speciest.  Reality is slowly becoming illegal.

  • KC
    Posted: Thu, 06/07/2018 08:20 am

    I think the ruling is probably correct in what it allowed and in what it ommitted. Businesses cannot start putting up signes saying they do not serve certain people, whether it be LGBT, different religions or race. At the same time, those groups cannot force a business to endorse their choice, which is what this couple was trying to do to Jack Phillips. The bible is clear on what is sin, and while the practice of homosexuality is sinful, so is any form of sex outside of marriage. Should we be able to deny service to someone who is sleeping with his girlfriend? No. Should we be able to say no to participating in say, decorating a cake with a message endorsing this same couples anniversary? Yes. And yes, there will be more litigation as the left pushes harder to get everyone else to not only accept, but also agree with their choices, even though they do not agree with ours.