Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission


This case involves a conflict between a commercial baker’s religious refusal to make a cake for the wedding reception of a same-sex couple and a state law requiring nondiscrimination in businesses open to the public.


Religious liberty does not mean that religious beliefs provide blanket exemptions to laws that protect our neighbors. We filed a brief 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 his religious beliefs, since state laws prohibit discrimination in the marketplace.

Laws like Colorado’s — which covers discrimination against “disability, race, [religion], color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry” — protect religious liberty. Granting an exemption for this baker would open the door for other business owners to refuse to serve other customers because of the religious clothing they wear or religious beliefs they profess.


On June 4, 2018, the Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, finding that actions of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the Free Exercise Clause. The decision sidestepped the core question of whether the business owner’s refusal to provide a service violated the law. Instead, the Court’s decision was based on the actions of the state administrative body charged with enforcing the law.

From the Brief

“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.”

“Respecting petitioners’ interest in their sincerely-held religious views regarding marriage does not require granting them the right to deny service in the commercial marketplace to couples in connection with the civil, or non-religious aspects of their marriages. Upholding petitioners’ claim on these facts would come at too great a cost to the state’s compelling interest in ensuring the ability of each citizen to participate in the commercial marketplace.”

“Petitioners’ claim that they are being forced to participate in something they view as religious is not limited in any meaningful way. Upholding that claim would invite a variety of religious exemptions that would fundamentally change expectations of equality in the commercial sphere. The rule petitioners seek to establish would subject any member of the public to the possibility that they might be denied service, at any time, without warning.”

“Ultimately, religious liberty itself would suffer if petitioners’ arguments were adopted. Like most public accommodations laws, CADA [Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act] prevents commercial discrimination on account of religion….If even the commercial act of selling a cake for a reception far removed from any religious ceremony qualifies for a religious exemption from CADA, then it is easy to foresee that many religious objections to serving a customer based on the customer’s ‘religious beliefs, observances, or practices’ would also have to be exempted. In the end, religious minorities would lose much of the protection that CADA affords them.”