In order to encourage Texas Baptists to participate in the democratic process, the CLC works at the Capitol to bring a biblical perspective to public policy, provides resources and encourages Texas Baptists to engage in informed advocacy on public policy issues affecting their churches and communities.

Kathryn Freeman

Director of Public Policy, Christian Life Commission

(512) 473-2288

Public Policy

Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission Explained

What Does It Mean:

Monday, the Supreme Court decided Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission in a 7-2 decision in favor of Masterpiece and its owner, Jack Phillips. While Phillips asked the Supreme Court to consider his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, the Court actually only addressed his free exercise claim. The Court  found that his free exercise rights had been violated because the government in Colorado, as represented by its Civil Rights Commission, inappropriately judged his religious beliefs.

According to earlier Supreme Court precedent, the government is not allowed to make judgments on the validity of one’s religious beliefs; it can only judge whether sincerely held religious beliefs might sometimes be outweighed by the public interest. This neutral consideration was not evident in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

The Court left hanging the larger question about future religious liberty claims related to business owners by stating “the outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in the open market.”

As for Texas, this ruling is a reminder to lawmakers and judges that open hostility to religious persons and beliefs violates the First Amendment requirement of respect and neutrality. The specific pattern that arose in Masterpiece Cakeshop is unlikely to occur in Texas for two reasons:

1) because Texas non-discrimination laws do not apply to sexual orientation, although some cities have passed non-discrimination ordinances that do include sexual orientation. In all cases, non-discrimination laws are inapplicable to churches, and

2) in 1999, a diverse group of religious and non-religious leaders, including the CLC’s director at the time, Phil Strickland, helped pass the Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). The Texas RFRA lays out by statute how courts are to consider religious liberty claims. It prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion unless the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and the government has employed the least restrictive means possible in furthering that interest. RFRA does not guarantee the rights of a religious person will triumph in every circumstance, but it does establish a framework for the respectful and neutral consideration of a person’s religious rights versus government interests.

Monday’s court ruling is an important reminder that government cannot be openly hostile toward religion or religious persons who seek to bring their religious convictions to the public square. While the nature of living in a pluralistic society will sometimes include debates and disagreements over competing declarations of rights, as Christians we should commit ourselves to kindness, love for our neighbors, and respectful debate as we bring our faith with us in all that we do...

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