Masterpiece Cakeshop decision: Not as narrow as you might think



Regardless of your view on marriage, and yes, there are still huge segments of society who firmly believe the original design was right, you should celebrate a recent ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld our country’s longstanding foundation of tolerance, respect and pluralism.

The case – Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission –involved a cake baker, Jack Phillips, who, because of his faith, could not design a custom wedding cake for two men. Like most creative professionals, he simply couldn’t express messages or celebrate events that violated his beliefs.

In the 7-2 decisive ruling, the Supreme Court made it clear that the government must respect Jack’s belief that marriage is a union of one woman and one man and that people like Jack cannot be driven out of public life.

Predictably, as soon as the decision came out, the spin machine started up – calling the decision “narrow.”

In one sense, this is absurd. The decision was 7-2, with liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer joining with the conservatives and Justice Anthony Kennedy to protect Jack’s religious freedom.

Yet in another sense, it is understandable. The Court was very specific in discussing Jack’s case, and they went out of their way in the decision to say that it doesn’t give all retail shops the right to not provide goods or services for gay weddings.

However, there are three key reasons it would be wrong to say that Jack’s victory is irrelevant and that it won’t have a larger impact on the religious freedom debate for years to come.

1. This is how the Court works.

In 2013, the Court was asked whether the Federal Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional in the Windsor case. This law defined marriage for the federal government as only the union of one man and one woman.

In this case, the Court (wrongly) found that the Federal DOMA was unconstitutional because it put the federal government in conflict with some state’s definition of marriage.

In many ways, this was a narrow decision. The Court had the ability to find that all efforts to define marriage as only the union of one man and one woman were unconstitutional. But they didn’t. They ruled on the specific issue of the conflict between federal and state law.

Now we know how this story ends – when the Obergefell case eventually got to the Court that sought to overturn a state’s definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, the Court then took on that specific question, and tragically ruled incorrectly again.

But this is informative for the situation we find ourselves in today. The Court likes to avoid writing sweeping decisions with broad implications. Rather, they try to find the specific question to answer. Often you can get signs of where they are leaning on these issues. When you read the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, you see they understand the vast free speech and religious freedom issues on the line in these cases.

2. The Court set an important principle.

Maybe the greatest lie of the political left in these cases is that when anyone enters the marketplace, they automatically surrender their First Amendment free speech and religious freedom rights.

The marketplace is “secular” they argue. You can have whatever religious beliefs you want, but you must act secular, is what they say.

The Court rejected this idea, and sent a clear message that the marketplace is neither secular nor religious – it’s neutral. It’s wrong and potentially dangerous for the government to be elevating secular ideals over religious ones. Furthermore, the government should NOT be in the business of deciding what are and are not valid religious beliefs.

3. Hostility is central to the Left’s playbook

What everyone can agree upon in this decision is that the Court found that the Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission’s hostility toward Jack was unconstitutional.

They compared Jack – a Christian businessman and father – to Nazis and white supremacists.

So yes, it’s true, this case was specific to the facts of Jack’s case. But virtually every other case like Jack’s involves astonishing hostility from the Left.

This kind of hostility is the rule, not the exception from the left. If you don’t support gay marriage, you’re a bigot in their eyes and don’t have a place in polite society.

That’s why the Southern Poverty Law Center calls groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Family Research Council “hate groups” – even though ADF and FRC merely believe in marriage between a man and a woman. It’s why they did a cover story on me for leading Alaska Family Action and standing up with others for the original design of marriage and human sexuality.

Will this historic ruling put an end to the Left’s relentless effort to bully and banish people from the public square for peacefully living out their beliefs?  Likely not. Will it stop the government from trying to treat people who hold Jack’s belief as second-class citizens? Doubtful.

But the decision, especially with Kagan and Breyer joining, is a remarkably refreshing sign that our Court isn’t as thoroughly politicized as many of us suspected. It also reaffirms that tolerance and respect for differences of opinion are essential in a pluralistic society like ours and enable us to peacefully coexist with each another.

Jim Minnery is president of Alaska Family Council.


  1. I could wish the decision was broader and would give more general guidance on the public accommodation issue. There are a lot of possible scenarios where a group with hostile feelings could try to hurt a service provider that are not necessarily related to religion. Can an ordinary baker, let alone a Jewish baker, be forced to bake a cake for a Nazi wedding? Can a florist of modest views be forced to deliver flowers to a wedding of nudists? To what extent can a provider consider his own values and beliefs when deciding whether to accept a job? When I was growing up, most retail stores had signs that said “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Can such signs still be displayed without fear of a lawsuit? I don’t know.

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