Will the Supreme Court Force the Baker to Bake a Cake?
In late June the Supreme Court issued a religious freedom ruling that took many by surprise. The case involved Trinity Lutheran School and the state of Missouri. The school applied for a state reimbursement grant for their playground. The state denied the school, citing the establishment clause to the Constitution. The state said that it would not “support religion” by awarding the grant to the school because it is owned and operated by a church. The school responded that the school is not open only to church members and that many of their students are not members of the church. The school also said that the playground is open to the community and not open solely during school hours. The state continued to deny the school the grant.
The school then enlisted the help of Alliance Defending Freedom in bringing a religious discrimination case against the state. The case made its way to the Supreme Court where, in what some call a surprise ruling, the court ruled in favor of the school.
The Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling is important for several reasons. But, it must be noted that while the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch was welcomed in this case, it appears that the court would have sided with the school without the vote of Gorsuch. Only justices Ruth Bader-Ginsburg and Sonya Sotomayor ruled against the school. This means justices Steven Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Anthony Kennedy sided with the conservative justices in ruling in favor of the school. That’s important.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
“The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant. In this case, there is no dispute that Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit. The rule is simple: No churches need apply.”
Many religious freedom advocates will see this as the correct understanding of the how the law should be applied when it comes to the state giving out grants. Others will no doubt see this as a violation of the oft-cited “separation of church and state,” a phrase never found in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
Commenting on the ruling, a post at the Alliance Defending Freedom website said:
“Practically speaking, this decision means that the State of Missouri cannot exclude religious organizations and individuals from generally available public benefits simply because of their beliefs. If the government is permitted to do that, then what would keep it from denying public services like police and fire protection to churches or other religious nonprofits?”
The key takeaway here, for me, is that a school serving its community (not just the members of a church) should be eligible for grants just like any other school. While public schools are supported by tax dollars, private schools are supported by tuition; while those families also pay taxes that support the local public schools. The playground is a public playground open to the community. For this reason, among others, there is no legitimate reason to deny the school grant money. I think the Supreme Court got this one right.
In what might be the biggest religious freedom case in recent history, the Supreme Court agreed to her the case of Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop.
This is the case in which a local baker in Colorado was asked to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. The baker, jack Phillips, refused, citing his religious convictions. Phillips said that he could not dishonor God by using his artistic talents to celebrate and promote a message that violated his religious convictions. While Phillips has joyfully served homosexual people for years at his bakery when they needed a cake for their birthday, or other occasions, Phillips has never made a cake for a same-sex wedding.
While Phillips says making a cake for a same-sex wedding would be a violation of his religious convictions, and that forcing him to take part in a same-sex wedding would violate his First Amendment rights, Phillips also refuses to make cakes based on other criteria. For example, Phillips won’t make baked goods with alcohol in them; he won’t make cakes celebrating Halloween, atheism, racism, or any marriage that is not between a man and a woman.
One element to this story (and others like it) that continues to intrigue me is that the customers could have gone to any other cake shop to get their cake. Do they really want to force someone to make a cake for their event under threat of government penalty? Will we next begin forcing artists to paint? Or forcing musicians to sing? What would be the difference between forcing a musician to write and sing a song for your same-sex wedding and forcing a baker to bake a cake? If one can be done, can’t the other?
I appreciated comments: by David Cortman of Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal organization representing Jack Phillips:
“Every American should be free to choose which art they will create and which art they won’t create without fear of being unjustly punished by the government. That’s why the bad decision in this case needs to be reversed. It imperils everyone’s freedom by crushing dissent instead of tolerating a diversity of views. We are all at risk when government is able to punish citizens like Jack just because it doesn’t like how he exercises his artistic freedom. America must have room for people who disagree to coexist.”
Another representative from Alliance Defending Freedom also commented on the idea of “artistic freedom”:
“Jack’s ability to make a living and run his family business shouldn’t be threatened simply because he exercised his artistic freedom. Artists speak through their art, and when Jack creates custom wedding cakes, he is promoting and celebrating the couple’s wedding. He simply can’t put his artistic talents to use on a custom cake for an event so at odds with his faith convictions.”
This will continue to be a carefully watched case as the Supreme Court hears arguments and prepares to rule. Both sides of the issue are nervous as they watch with anticipation what the court will decide. I’m sure much prayer will be given to this issue.