A date has been set in a pivotal Supreme Court case that pits same-sex couples against religious liberty conservatives.
On December 5, SCOTUS is set to hear arguments on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a baker argues that making a cake for a gay wedding violates his “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., was forced to undergo sensitivity training in 2012 by the state’s civil rights commission after he refused service to David Mullins and Charlie Craig. The government body found that Phillips had violated the couple’s rights under Colorado’s nondiscrimination laws, which ban bias on the basis of sexual orientation in all public accommodations.
Phillips has continually held that his denial wasn’t motivated by animus toward LGBTQ people. A devout Christian, the 61-year-old claimed in court that his company wouldn’t bake Halloween-themed cakes or anything containing alcohol.
Lower courts have continually ruled against Phillips, culminating in a final appeal to the nation’s highest bench. His case will be argued on behalf of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the ultra-conservative law firm behind numerous anti-LGBTQ bills across the United States. On the organization’s website, it claims that “opponents of marriage will not stop at removing the foundation of civilization.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified the ADF as a “hate group.”
The Trump White House has come out in full force to support Philipps in recent weeks. The Department of Justice claimed in a “friend of the court” brief that ruling against the baker’s right of refusal would violate his Constitutional rights under the First Amendment. The DOJ called a wedding cake a “form of expression.”
“It is an artistic creation that is both subjectively intended and objectively perceived as a celebratory symbol of a marriage,” wrote Acting Solicitor Gen. Jeffrey B. Wall in September.
That argument is nearly identical to the one put forward by the ADF.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions added weight to those claims in a Friday memo. In the 25-page letter, Sessions advises government employees on 20 central tenets of religious liberty that departments should comply with.
“Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” Sessions wrote on Oct. 6. “Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.”
That advisement could pave the way for broad discrimination within the federal government by effectively nullifying LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. On the same day the memo was issued, Sessionsissued an order arguing civil rights law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
The couple at the center of the firestorm deny that this is about religious freedom. They say it’s about fairness.
“We asked for a cake,” Craig claimed in an interview with The New York Times. “We didn’t ask for a piece of art or for him to make a statement for us. He simply turned us away because of who we are.”