Masterpiece Cakeshop case tests religious and LGBT rights, but justices choose the narrow way.
The case of a Christian baker refusing to design a cake for a same-sex wedding became, in the eyes of many, the most-anticipated Supreme Court decision of the year because justices had a chance to finally resolve America’s ongoing struggle to balance sincerely held faith convictions and LGBT protections.
But in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the court’s 7–2 ruling did not establish a new precedent outright allowing or barring Christian business owners from serving customers based on their faith convictions. Instead, the narrow decision favored baker Jack Phillips over a state agency that the high court ruled had demonstrated an unconstitutional hostility toward his Christian beliefs.
CT asked religious liberty experts to weigh in on what the complicated ruling actually means for conservative Christian business owners in the wedding industry:
Thomas Berg, professor of law and public policy at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota):
This is the court’s first tangle with the issue of religious vendor refusals and LGBT rights, and the justices obviously wanted to proceed slowly. But there are other cases coming, including the Washington florist currently before the court. The justices will have to accept another one for review if they want any control over what this opinion means.
The court indicates that the interests of both LGBT people and religious objectors must be taken seriously—a central theme of the amicus brief that [University of Virginia professor Douglas Laycock] and I filed for the LDS Church and other groups. But the court doesn’t say exactly what that means. Does it just mean no outright hostility to a religious belief? Or might it mean that the …