Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) – Case Summary

 The core of this case was individual’s right to exercise free speech and worship as enshrined in the First Amendment, especially with regard to non-discrimination in public accommodation.  Masterpiece Cakeshop declined a request by a gay couple seeking to have their custom wedding cake made based on the proprietor’s religious belief (Gilkis, 2018). The case was later forwarded to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission which later determined that the owner’s actions were discriminatory. Furthermore, the bakery was issued with fresh orders relating to the couple’s request which prompted the bakery’s owner to lodge an appeal against the decision in the US Supreme Court. The commission’s decision was subsequently reversed since the commission failed to apply religious neutrality.

The main question in this particular case was whether the Colorado Public Accommodations law was applied constitutionally by issuing fresh orders requiring the defendant to design a cake violating his religious beliefs. The bakery’s owner, Jack Phillips, was unequivocal in asserting his position as a staunch Christian whose religious beliefs were in direct opposition to his faith. In essence, this violated his First Amendment rights by obstructing the Free Exercise Clause.

The 7-2 ruling by the Supreme Court determined that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had failed to act constitutionally by ignoring Jack Phillip’s First Amendments. It also failed to implement religious neutrality during the initial appraisal and the autonomy enjoyed by persons in relation to free exercise (Levy, 2017). The court reversed the initial ruling and highlighted the need for an in-depth evaluation of anti-discrimination laws to address challenges bound to emerge during adjudication.

 The Supreme Court’s decision was to reverse a previous ruling made by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission on Jack Phillips’ failure to design a wedding cake for a gay couple. Justices Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Stephen Brever, and Neil Gorsuch were unanimously agreed on Phillip’s right to freely exercise his religion and the religious neutrality clause subsequently violated (Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 2018). The commission had, therefore, openly displayed belligerence towards Phillips religious disposition. Dissenting voices, primarily by Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, asserted that the Commission was justified in its ruling and had acted well within stipulated legal bounds. However, both justices were keep on stating that legal precedents were of the utmost importance in such cases since they provided a workable framework to inform commissions when confronted with a constitutional debacle. In this case, the business owner’s decision to deny an essential service to a member of the public did not go against their statutorily protected traits.

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