Of Cakes and Caution


Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of Jack Phillips, a cake shop owner from Lakewood, Colorado. The court’s decision in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission indicated that a state commission had exhibited open hostility toward Phillips precisely because of his religious convictions. Those convictions, which the court recognized as “sincere,” formed the basis for Phillips’ decision when, in 2012, he declined to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding.

To be clear, the decision ultimately concerned the treatment Phillips received from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a civic body from which impartiality toward religious belief and conviction should be expected. Instead, the commission chose to assume a position of judgment over certain religious convictions and to regard with contempt Phillips’ particular religious beliefs. As Justice Kennedy wrote: “The government, consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise, cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices.”

Champions of religious liberty are rightly celebrating the court’s decision, but caution is warranted. The questions of free speech and free exercise of religion with regard to same-sex marriage have yet to be determined. It seems as though the court has intentionally decided to avoid wading into these complicated and complex issues. Until the court is given the opportunity to provide a more direct ruling, advocates of religious liberty can celebrate the court’s refusal to grant any adjudicating authority over religious belief systems to governmental bodies. However, another cake may mean another case in the future, one which might not be as favorable to religious believers. Time will undoubtedly tell.