The Many Layers of SCOTUS's Cake Ruling

The Many Layers of SCOTUS's Cake Ruling

June 05, 2018

It's the reason Jack Phillips got into baking in the first place. "I love doing wedding cakes," he said. Unfortunately, it was a passion he had to put aside when the battle over religious liberty came knocking. Now, five years and a Supreme Court ruling later, Masterpiece Cakes is back in business. And the Phillipses aren't the only ones celebrating.

"God Bless America and Masterpiece Cakeshop!" was the message spelled out in red icing on a cherry cake brought in by an emotional customer yesterday. From locals to long-distance fans, Americans everywhere were thrilled to see the court finally vindicate Jack for exercising his most basic liberties. "People don't have to share my beliefs to support my freedom," he tried to explain. "They just need to agree that the decision should be mine to make -- not the government's to make for me... If the government can force me to celebrate events and express views that violate my conscience, they can do it to anyone."

The Phillipses, meanwhile, are just anxious to get to back to work after a half-decade legal detour that almost closed their shop for good. "We're just looking forward to hopefully getting back into the wedding business," Jack told reporters on Monday, especially after a four-year hiatus from that side of the industry. Wedding vendors like Aaron and Melissa Klein, parents of five who had to close their bakery's doors when Oregon officials slapped them with a $135,000 fine for turning down a similar order, aren't so lucky. Until the court hands down a broader ruling in this debate, they'll be limbo, fighting in state courts for the right to live and work according to their beliefs. Clarence Thomas, who was equally frustrated that the court didn't address the bigger question of religious liberty and same-sex marriage, thinks the time is coming – and soon – when the justices will have to weigh in.

That day could come as soon as Thursday, when the justices will decide whether to take the case of Christian florist Barronelle Stutzman. The Washington grandmother, who is being personally and professionally sued by the state, could lose everything in a suit brought by two men who accused her of "discrimination" when she turned down their custom wedding order. Barronelle's ordeal took a sickening turn last year, when the Washington Supreme Court sided with the men, leaving her with one last resort: SCOTUS. It will be up to these same justices to decide if they deny the appeal, send it back to Washington's Supreme Court for a second look after Jack's ruling, or hear it next term.

Until then, National Review's David French writes, Americans should take comfort in the fact that the justices took the opportunity to "[remind] state authorities that people of faith have the exact same rights -- and are entitled to the exact same treatment -- as people of different faith or no faith at all. And it did so in an opinion that decisively rejected the exact talking points so favored by the anti-religious Left." That, he thinks, is the most important part of Monday's ruling. Justice Kennedy may never be able to undo the damage he did to religious liberty when he took a wrecking ball to marriage in Obergefell, but he is at least trying to repair some of it. For once, French points out, "the court breathed a bit of life back into religious-liberty jurisprudence. And the justice who did it is none other than Anthony Kennedy... the justice most responsible for the gay-rights revolution.

Across the nation's capital, leaders cheered the justice for Jack. Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Mike Johnson (R-La.), who were behind Congress's 86-member amicus brief in the case, called it a landmark win. "No one should be banished from the marketplace for peacefully living out his or her faith and for shaping business practices accordingly," Vicky said in a statement. "The First Amendment protects Jack's deeply held beliefs in the sanctity of marriage and his ability to create art reflective of his convictions and conscience." Tolerance, Johnson echoed, should be "a two-way street." Surely, Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) chimed in, "We can disagree as Americans on topics like marriage, sexuality, and conscience, but still respect the views and conscience of all without forcing a belief on everyone." Over at the Department of Justice, where officials filed their own brief on Jack's behalf, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he was "pleased" with the decision and vowed to keep defending the free speech and religious freedom "of all Americans."

Hopefully, that will be a little easier now that the court seems willing to hold the anti-faith bullies accountable. It's exactly, David French points out, the kind of pushback Americans have been waiting for. "Since the rise of the gay-marriage movement, it has become fashionable to decry dissenters as haters and bigots, to attempt to write them out of polite society in the same way that the larger American body politic has rightfully rejected the Klan... This week, the Supreme Court said 'enough.'"

For more on the impact of the Masterpiece case, don't miss Tony Perkins's interview yesterday on Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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