Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Baptists and others say religious liberty is protected by recognizing diversity of religious beliefs and providing commercial goods and services on equal basis

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty filed a brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on behalf of the state of Colorado, explaining that a commercial baker should not be able to refuse service to a same-sex couple based on the baker’s sincerely held religious belief about marriage.

The brief explains how nondiscrimination laws like Colorado’s protect religious liberty in the commercial marketplace. The United Church of Christ, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Chicago Theological Seminary also joined the brief.

Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee, released the following statement in response to the December 5 oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court:

“Religious liberty is a fundamental principle, protected in a variety of ways, including by state public accommodation laws. Colorado’s law ensures equal treatment in the marketplace without regard to religion and other characteristics. That protection is good for religious liberty. 

Of course, within the Christian community, there are many different views about marriage. No one should doubt that the baker’s religious objection is sincere. But the assertion of a faith-based objection cannot be enough to justify an exemption from a nondiscrimination law. Such a rule would put religious liberty at greater risk.  

No customer should fear being denied goods or services by a business that is open to the public simply because of the business owner’s religious views. While this case involves a same-sex couple, the baker’s free exercise argument would open the door to rejections of interracial or interfaith couples by all kinds of businesses.  

Our brief explains that protecting religious liberty in a pluralistic society requires a delicate balance. The Colorado statute strikes an appropriate balance by ensuring access to the commercial marketplace without unlawful discrimination. Houses of worship and other institutions principally used for religious purposes are not affected by this law.

It is essential to protect all of our churches and their members’ diverse religious beliefs about marriage while — at the same time — recognizing as citizens and Christians that we should treat all equally and without regard to religious differences in the commercial marketplace.” To see Holly Hollman’s statement as a press release, click here.

 

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Background:

The Baptist Joint Committee filed a friend-of-the-court-brief in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in support of the state of Colorado, explaining how respect for religious liberty requires recognizing diverse religious beliefs and seeking to protect all citizens. The case centers on a commercial baker’s refusal to make a cake for the wedding reception of a same-sex couple, despite state law requiring nondiscrimination in businesses open to the public. The United Church of Christ, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Chicago Theological Seminary also signed the brief.

The brief states, “Public accommodations laws like Colorado’s generally promote religious liberty, by protecting individuals from discrimination on account of their religion. Such laws also promote human dignity, which is itself a religious value, by ensuring that all individuals can access the commercial marketplace on an equal basis. By advancing these compelling interests, public accommodations laws like Colorado’s protect the pluralism that is so vital to American society.” 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.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case on December 5, 2017. Return to this page for additional resources as they become available.