Religious groups say commercial baker at center of high-profile case is not entitled to religious exemption in this case

Media Contacts:
Connie Larkman, United Church of Christ: Office: 216-736-2196 Email: larkmanc@ucc.org
Cherilyn Crowe, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty: Office: 202-544-4226 / Cell: 202-670-5877 Email: ccrowe@BJConline.org

Respect for religious liberty requires recognizing diverse religious beliefs and seeking to protect all citizens. A religious liberty exemption to public accommodations laws should not be granted when the actor is operating in the commercial context and is not required to participate in a religious marriage ceremony, according to a brief filed at the U.S. Supreme Court by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The brief was also joined by the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Chicago Theological Seminary.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a commercial baker with a sincere religious objection to same-sex marriage is seeking an exemption to Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation on the basis of several categories including race, religion and sexual orientation. The baker refused to sell a cake to a same-sex couple for their wedding reception, which took place on a different day and in a different state from their wedding ceremony. 

“The General Synod of the United Church of Christ is committed to religious liberty for people all faiths, and we are also committed to the dignity of all persons and to a pluralistic society where people of all faiths coexist peacefully,” said Rev. John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. “That can only happen if individuals are served equally regardless of their sexual orientation.”

“Public accommodations laws are good for religious liberty,” said Heather E. Kimmel, General Counsel for the United Church of Christ. “They prevent people from being turned away because of their religious identity and other characteristics. An exemption for the baker under these circumstances, where he was not asked to participate in a religious marriage ceremony, would be impossible to limit in the future.”

The brief notes the important distinction that the Supreme Court drew between the religious institution of marriage and the civil institution of marriage in its Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which found the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples an equal right to participate in civil marriage. The brief says the Colorado statute strikes an appropriate balance respecting religious liberty and ensuring access for all to the commercial marketplace, while explicitly exempting houses of worship and other religious institutions. If an exemption is granted in this case, the brief argues “[r]eligious liberty itself would suffer, as religious individuals would be subject to being denied service because the commercial proprietor’s religious views differed from theirs.”

“Free exercise law provides many protections for the religious beliefs and actions of individuals and institutions that oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons,” said Holly Hollman, General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “But it does not provide a right for commercial vendors to refuse to sell goods and services to certain people in violation of a nondiscrimination law by simply asserting a faith-based reason.”

 The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case December 5. Read the brief online here.

For more on this case from the Baptist Joint Committee, read Holly Hollman’s column titled “Cakes and the commercial marketplace.”

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The United Church of Christ is a mainline Protestant denomination comprised of nearly 900,000 members and 5,000 congregations nationwide. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, the UCC is a church of many firsts, including the first mainline denomination to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly-gay man and the first predominantly white denomination to ordain an African American. The UCC and its members are tireless advocates for social issues such as immigration reform, racial equality, LGBT rights, marriage equality, environmental protection and economic justice.

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is an 81-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization working to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all people and protect the institutional separation of church and state in the historic Baptist tradition. The BJC has filed amicus curiae briefs in more than 100 cases in the courts, including most of the U.S. Supreme Court’s cases dealing with religious liberty.