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Written by Don Byrd

Legendary Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston today posted an overview of a potentially important church-state case that the U.S. Supreme Court may decide to take up when it returns in October. Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is a case involving a cakemaker’s refusal to provide services for same-sex wedding ceremonies. Jack Phillips was charged with violating state law barring businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Colorado Appeals Court rejected Jack Phillips’ defense that enforcement of the law against him violates his religious freedom rights, and earlier this year the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving that ruling in place. Now, Phillips is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that requiring him to create a cake for a wedding ceremony he objects to on religious grounds violates his rights of free speech and free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.

Denniston lays out what is different about this case, and its potential stakes:

Two years ago, the Justices – without comment – denied review of the case of Elane Photography v. Willock. That was a case from New Mexico in which a commercial photography was ruled to have acted illegally in denying to take pictures for a same-sex couple’s wedding.

But the lawyers for the photographer in that case did not base their appeal to the Supreme Court on their client’s religious beliefs, but rather on the claim that she was being forced to engage in the creative expression of taking photos in violation of her First Amendment rights of free expression. The court appeared to have no interest in the issue, framed that way, leaving New Mexico free to enforce equal access to commercial opportunity for same-sex couples, under a state’s “public accommodations” law.

That omission of a faith-based argument, however, is not a feature of the new case that is now awaiting the Justices’ attention. Involving a commercial bakery in Lakewood, Colorado, that case seeks to make a direct test of whether the First Amendment’s protection for religious expression reaches a wedding cake, put together by a person who conducts his business according to religious principles.

You can read the Masterpiece Cakeshop petition to the Supreme Court here.