The Masterpiece Cakeshop Case: What You Need to Know

Five years ago, Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig walked into Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Lakewood, Colorado, bakery to purchase a cake for their wedding reception. But the bakery’s owner refused to serve them solely because they’re a same-sex couple.

Colorado courts found that the bakery discriminated against Dave and Charlie, violating a state law that says businesses open to the public can’t turn away customers based on sexual orientation. Now, the bakery is asking for a “constitutional exemption” —permission to violate the state law based on the owner’s objection to serving gay people.

Here are three things to know about the case, which will be heard by the Court on December 5.

Is the bakery’s argument new? 

No. In the 1960s, Piggie Park barbecue restaurant argued that its owner’s religious beliefs meant it could refuse to serve Black customers. In the 1970s and 1980s, schools claimed that they should be allowed to pay women less than men based on the belief that men should be the head of the household. Time and again, courts have recognized that religious views, no matter how deeply felt, don’t entitle any of us to discriminate. The same is true today.

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Does this violate the bakery's First Amendment rights?

No. The Colorado anti-discrimination law doesn’t tell the bakery how to make its cakes. What it says is that if the bakery chooses to sell cakes, it can’t refuse to sell them to certain people based on their sexual orientation. The ACLU is proud to defend the First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion. But religious freedom doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate. If it did, any business would be free to discriminate against almost any of us — members of minority faiths, women, racial minorities, LGBT people — solely based on the owner’s views.

What’s at stake in this case?

This fall the Supreme Court will decide whether businesses that open their doors to the public have a constitutional right to discriminate.

People have deeply held beliefs about all kinds of things. If those beliefs gave anyone the right to discriminate, a tailor shop could refuse to alter a business suit for women, or a bus company could refuse to drive people of different faiths to work. If the bakery has a constitutional right to discriminate, then today it’s Dave and Charlie, tomorrow it could be you, your family members, your friends and your loved ones. Any of us could be turned away simply because of who we are.

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Anonymous

So, would a KKK baker (who states that they should be able to refuse black people because of both religious and freedom of expression) be able to refuse an African American wedding? Why? And how does that get up there with appeals court cases such as Piggie Park Enterprises, and Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S.? Please line out your constitutional argument as to why the baker is right. And please differentiate in your argument whether or not someone who's refusing service based upon race would also be right in refusing this service.

Zach

This article is so one sided. Please, clear it up for people trying to do research.

Cynthia

1) cake baking is not art. An artist doesn't ask you if you want a vanilla, lemon or chocolate cake; a raspberry or lemon filling; fondant or buttercream; vanilla, chocolate or lemon icing...This is a specious argument.
2) there can be no presumption that these bakery services are available elsewhere - perhaps the community this couple lives in is full of people of a like mind to this baker, secretly prepared to discriminate in exactly the same way; how would one know what the real market is for wedding cakes for gay couples? So the argument that this isn't like Jim Crow is an argument that is impossible to prove.
3) the sales practices themselves are suspicious - apparently this baker would sell cookies or a birthday cake to the gay couple, just not a wedding cake. But since this hasn't been previously advertised to the gay couple or community at large, people who would find this discrimination abhorrent are not able to make an informed choice about whether they want to buy their day to day items from this baker. It's a bait and switch. I for one would NEVER knowingly buy a product from someone who would discriminate in this way.
4) Let's assume one of the two guys who works at Whitefish Energy, the company that just got a $300m contract in Puerto Rico, is against the death penalty for religious reasons. Does he have the right to turn off the current to the prison in PR during an electrocution of a prisoner? I think not.

Anonymous

Cynthia,
Excellent retort, it seems like I got an answer from one of the ACLUs very own. Let's first start out by saying that I will answer you hypothetical situation if you first answer the two presented first I you. Would you force both the Priest and the prostitute to service the gay person it couple. I just want to make sure that you are placing this new situation above all other protected classes.
Also, who are you to say making a wedding cake isn't an art. Do you want to go ahead and define it. I didn't see the ACLU wanting to define it in the PissChrist event back in the 80s. If a cross in a jar of piss can be considered art and paid for my government funds, well you know the rest.
In terms of the presumption, there is no need for the presumption. This is a weighing of rights against each other. Reasonable people can look how many bakeries are in the area and simply ask them. That was never what this was about, it was likely a setup from the beginning.
In regards to your point number three, does that mean you are ok with it if it's stated ahead of time so people can make up their own mind? If so, I can live with that.
On point 4, ou would be mixing up individual rights and a corporate entity. I'm more than willing to weigh this out to determine the more important right, are you?
Let's now forget that a resent SC decision allows individuals to keep their religious liberties and still participate in commerce. Look at the Hobby Lobby case if you want further direction.

Ron

Not true...The baker was more than happy to sell this couple a cake as he has with other weddings. What he refused to do was prepare and sell a cake in the design this couple wanted. If this baker was not an artist then why did this couple go to him for this specific style cake? Because he is an artist and a business owner. The above comments about the KKK are ridiculous, because there is zero religious foundation for the KKK and actually quite the opposite.

Please at least stop saying the baker refused to sell this couple a cake and state the truth that he refused to sell them their custom cake. Why doesn't anyone want to describe the cake that caused this conflict? Because it is trash!

Anonymous

You should read the appellate briefs from the baker side, apparently two people went to another baker asking for a cake with anti gay messages and were turned down. When they went to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the wouldn't take their complaint citing that the baker had the right to turned them down.

Anonymous

You are making the exact same mistake the baker's lawyers did in their arguments. The other guy was turned down by the three bakeries because they wouldn't make the requested cake for anyone, it had nothing to do with his religious beliefs. Those bakeries wouldn't have made the requested cakes no matter who asked for them.

In contrast, Masterpiece refused to make ANY wedding cake for the couple, because they were gay. And FYI, the only thing that makes a wedding cake a wedding cake is serving it at a wedding, any the only thing that makes a birthday cake is serving it to celebrate a birthday. Masterpiece refused to make any of the cakes from it's cake photo book, so it had nothing to do with the design of the cake being requested (unlike the guy with the other bakeries).

Had the couple asked for "the super gay rainbow wedding special spectacular", Masterpiece could legally refuse to make that cake, because they wouldn't make it for anyone. See the difference?

Anonymous

As I predicted the SCOTUS cited the issue with the patrons who requested a cake with anti-gay massages as part of their opinion.

Louisa

When I first heard about this case, the first thought that came into my mind was Christ’s response on the issue of paying taxes: “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s”. For those of us who are God-conscious individuals, and certainly no one more than Jesus was “God-conscious”, it could be said that everything about us is God’s, since we believe that all emanates from the benevolence of God.
So should there ever be a line drawn? In order for society to continue in orderly fashion, there is a line drawn – and Jesus, himself, showed us where it should be drawn. He was asked if it was permitted for Jews to pay taxes to Rome. He asked for the tax coin to be shown to him, and it bore the image of Caesar. That was the face of the “State” at the time. Notwithstanding that, at the time of Jesus (himself a Jew), Jews were involved in tax revolts against Romans who were an occupying force in Judea, Jesus reminded his inquisitors that the issue of laws requiring taxes were the province of Caesar, not religious belief or opinion.
So how does that coincide with the issues raised by the petitioners in this case? The bakery is governed by laws. It is subject to licensing regulations, health code regulations, safety regulations, employment regulations and numerous other bows to the law which permits it to operate. In this country, one cannot just “do business”. If one does not accede to the requirements of the law, the law can shut down one’s business because there is no innate right to have a business unless the law is followed, any more than there is a right to drive unless traffic rules are followed. Of course, if one has one’s own property, one can drive on it anywhere he chooses -- but not on public roads.
The petitioner in this case has a business. The business is operated for money, and as he also points out, as his opportunity to ply his God-given “artistic talent” as well as his “trade”. Of course, if the petitioner were not in the “trade” of creating cakes, but simply created them as a gift to those whose weddings he wanted to honor, no one would think twice about not bothering him if he chose not to give a cake to a gay or lesbian couple. Nor would the State stop him from using his God-given skills to bless with his gifts the weddings he approves of, nor interfere with his honoring those “approved of” weddings.
But the “trade” part is that part that is, and must be, governed by the State. The State, in a sense, is a partner in his business, in that the State has an interest in how the business is run, first, by regulating it in the areas mentioned above, and then by taking its “cut”, in the form of licensing fees, business taxes, unemployment insurance, workers’ comp insurance, withholding taxes, social security taxes, etc. That he is religious and does not believe in war, or the collateral killing of thousands of non-combatants, including children, is irrelevant, though it’s curious that this particular injustice is not on his religious radar. (Of course, one could ask, if this WERE his particular issue, would the discussion of freedom of conscience and religion have made it this far.)
Then there is issue of “art”. I, too, believe that all talents emanate from the God who created us. In fact, I think it’s arrogant to think that any talent or skill is more artistic than another. I don’t believe that ANY skill holds sway over any other in the “art” category. I’ve met artistic plumbers and exterminators as well as hack writers and artists. But again, I’m guessing (though I cannot afford one) that when a Picasso is sold, a sales or excise tax is paid, and that the State doesn’t give a whit that Picasso didn’t paint his creation to support the State’s endeavors or interests or laws. Of course, the petitioner can argue that his “heart” just isn’t “in” the creation when it’s to be used for a purpose his religion prohibits. Does, or should, the State care where his “heart” is? Well, what of the conscientious objector whose religious beliefs are respected to the point where he is not required to kill the enemy, but is still required to serve in the military in support of the religiously-prohibited killing, either by mending soldiers as a medic, thereby enabling them to return to killing the enemy, or by putting pins on maps thereby helping generals to plan the killing.
I “get” that his heart isn’t in it. I spent most of my adult life investigating discrimination cases. I even sympathize with him. But if a person cannot walk into any store (or bank, or real estate office, etc.) knowing that he or she is truly free to utilize its services without discrimination, then no one can rely on the laws to protect any of us. A church? No. A church may discriminate among its membership or in its religious services in any way it chooses, and that’s the law of the land – and we can rely on that. Individuals may be religious, but they are not religions – especially when they’re involved in commerce, and not proselytizing.
But as a postscript, personally I wouldn’t trust a cake made by a man who doesn’t see his obligation to be law-abiding.

Anonymous

Louisa, you are really mixing up points within your lecture. I applaud you for your faith, however there are some things you need to consider.
1. The payment of taxes does not involve the individual participating in a sinful act and certainly not supporting it. What would Jesus have said if the Romans said that the individual had to participating in the raping of a child and it was by the law of the land. The law is not granting the right to participate in a sinful act and thus the person isn't responsible for their own support of sin.
2. The law can shut down one's business, but that is exactly what we are discussing. We are discussing the rights under the Constitution as to whether that is a just thing to do. In this case it clearly isn't and it should not be allowed under the larger law of the land.
3. The state should care about the rights of all of it's citizens and they should weight these rights against each other. Following ones religious values is a right in this country. And in many cases it's a right to be served if you fall into certain categories like Religion, Age, Sex, National Origin, etc. When these rights conflict, we weight the circumstances and determine which is the more important right. The left is screaming about discrimination, but being allowed to follow ones religious values which conducting business is also a right. Its a Freedom of religion and a freedom for the pursuit of happiness. There is no inherent right to force one to serve another as that is called Slavery. Review some of the other scenarios and you can see you might now want to Force a Prostitute in Nevada to follow such a law or a Preacher conducting weddings. At the same time, you would want to force a Doctor to save lives even if it were somehow against their religion due to the more important right to live that is at stake. It's not always so simple and just giving out rights, because where rights are given other liberties are taken away.

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