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.

Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from

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.

View comments (81)
Read the Terms of Use


Any baker should have to accommodate a muzlum customer who asks for a cake with "KILL THE INFIDELS" scribed on top?

Cameron Atkinson

In my opinion, this article does not frame the issue properly. The underlying Constitutional issue lies in expression through speech instead of expression through religion. Neither does the article properly apply the Piggie Park Barbecue case. Why? Let's start with the relevant distinctions between Piggie Park Barbecue and Masterpiece Cakeshop. Piggie Park Barbecue was offering standardized products to its patrons, namely, a standard menu of food, a place to eat, and a standard of waitering. All of its products were freely distributed goods. Masterpiece Cakeshop creates custom weddings cakes, often with various artistic expressions on them. The creation of artistic expression is a speech expression, not a religious expression. Consequently, the issue is more correctly phrased as: "Should Masterpiece Cakeshop be required to offer its services of artistic creation to everyone regardless of the requested expression? The argument for Dave and Charlie is that these are standardized services of artistic creation and that they should be available to everyone under the equal protection clause for the 14th Amendment. The argument for Masterpiece Cakeshop is that artistic creation is the essence of expression. Whether it is music, paintings, or sculptures commissioned by an arts patron, the ultimate product is its creator's expression, not its patron even though he may provide guidance. Consequently, the creator may freely choose to deny the patron's commission. Consider the following hypothetical. You sculpt for a living and I come to you with the following request: "I want you to create a statute depicting me beating a woman with a whip, thus compelling her to engage in forcible sexual intercourse with me (rape). By the way, I also want it for the grand opening of a new sadomasochistic society that I am starting where we will engage in similar simulated behavior with the consent of the women of course." Would you deny yourself the right to refuse to make such a creation because it shocks your conscience and sensibilities and you will not endorse such expression through your expressions of art? If you think Masterpiece should be forced to create the cake, you will intellectually betray yourself if you answer "no" to my hypothetical. To complete my opinion, Masterpiece is constitutionally required under the 14th Amendment to sell standardized baked goods to the homosexual couple for whatever purpose they desire; however, Masterpiece is not required (compelled) to make (create) a customized creation (expression) for this couple as it violates their right to free expression through speech.


Here's a thought: Your opinion, including your religious one, has no right under any law or constitution. It is beyond appalling to me that any schmuck can make up anything he or she wants, call it religion, and have the law respect that thing. Of course, it is also beyond appalling that, here we are in 2017, and millions of people still believe the stuff schmucks from 2000 years ago made up.


Here's a thought: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...". It is literally the first line of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

Your reasoning is exactly what the Colorado Civil Rights Commission did that got this case reversed. Show some respect for other peoples beliefs no matter how nutty you think they are.


I find it interesting that the arguments in favor of allowing Masterpiece Cake Shop to discriminate frequently involve purportedly equivalent examples such as hypothetical "artists" being required to celebrate illegal activities (e.g writing cakes with homophobic epithets or sculptors creating statues of men beating women). Let's try to remember that it is LEGAL for two persons of the same sex to marry. No one is promoting hate speech, and no one is beating anyone. We could use equally absurd arguments about a hypothetical baker whose religious beliefs tell him he should secretly put castor oil in his cakes because it purges wicked humours. Should such a zealot be allowed to freely purvey his cakes?

And to the argument that my reference to Jesus and the coin of taxation was not a valid example of interference with religion, I submit that it even a stronger example of State interference with religious belief than this cake-baking issue. I remind "Anonymous" that at the time of Christ, the Kingdom of Israel was under occupation, most recently by the Romans, and that same Kingdom of Israel (by this time, renamed Judea) had been founded, according to the Bible, as a theocracy under the command of Jehovah Himself. Paying taxes to Rome was not the same as paying taxes to Washington (though many sometimes act as though it is.) To the Jews' religious beliefs, that very occupation was a usurpation of God's own rule -- and the Romans were making them pay for the privilege of dethroning Jehovah as the rightful Ruler of the land. The issue wasn't just "we don't want to pay taxes". The issue was: by paying these taxes, we are paying for the destruction of the sovereignty of our kingdom as God dictated for it to be. So it very much was a religious issue.

Nonetheless, Jesus recognized that there is a difference between worship of a deity and obeying the general rules of an orderly society. If the Jews had been required to WORSHIP Caesar, Jesus may have responded differently. But by using the coin as an example, he demonstrated that there are competing authorities which, if they are kept in their own sphere of authority can successfully co-exist.

As for the constitutional argument, I believe that this country and the constitution would be torn to shreds if every time someone's religious beliefs ran afoul of a statute, those persons would be absolved from obeying the law. We wind up with clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses (whether to the Lovings because of religiously motivated state laws prohibiting interracial marriage), or to GLBT couples (because that clerk didn't even feel she needed the support of her state legislature behind her -- her religion alone gave her the right to discriminate and break the law.)

My point was simply that when we choose to operate in a public sphere, i.e. owning a store, we should be expected -- indeed, we ARE expected -- to obey the law and respect ALL of the public who enter our shop door. This society has determined that its citizens are to be treated equally in commercial trade, without regard to their age, race, color, creed, gender, disability, national origin -- and sexual orientation. The law says you can't put a sign in your window that says "we don't serve Swedes". If your religion is Christian, you can't refuse to serve Jews. If you're an Orthodox Jewish baker, you can't refuse to create a wedding cake because the wedding will be held on the Sabbath.

Or are you saying that anyone, at any time, can refuse to do what the law requires, based solely on their religious belief? And does it matter how many subscribe to this same religious belief? Can it be a religious belief that you, alone, believe in? Or must there be a certain number of adherents? And who determines what number?

Yes, this is very much a constitutional issue. And the main purpose of the Constitution is to set up a system with laws that everyone can count on being enforced.

As I argued, no one is saying that this cake artist can't determine who he can GIVE his cakes to: White or Black, Irish or Portuguese, Male or Female, Christian or not. But when he sets up shop on a public street, under public rules and laws, he does so with the understanding that he must obey the same laws as everyone else.

So no more refusing whiskey to Native Americans because our religious beliefs tell us they're not equal to Whites who can "handle" it, and no more refusing bank loans to women without their husbands' consent because the Bible says that "a wife should be subject to her husband". I could go on ad infinitum on all of the proscriptions against equality under the law that were originally based on the Bible.

But with all the rules written in Leviticus, and on the tablets, I go back to Jesus, when asked the greatest commandment, he ignored all of what had been written on paper and in stone, and simply reminded us to love God, and to do to each other what we would do to our own selves. And in all my years of dealing with discrimination, I can truly tell you that the only time we humans ever get into trouble is when we mistakenly think that there is an "us" and there is a "them". When we are all "WE", we do much better.


Louisa, are you purposely ignoring the examples provided to you? Think about the Nevada prostitute. If they have a business on the street do they have the ability to refuse same sex? Also what about the preacher case in which he doesn't work directly with a Church? We weigh interests all the time and by pretending there is no weighing needed, you are ignoring the issue itself. For every new right you give someone, you take a liberty away from someone else. It's no excuse to say people loose their rights by engaging in commerce because people need to be able to pursue happiness and actually make a living.
To quote Patrick Henry, Give me liberty or give me death

Anonymous M.C.

Reply to "Anonymous's" reply to "Louisa":

"Anonymous", of course it is a balancing of interests, as the creation of all laws and regulations should be. No freedom or right is without limits, and sometimes there is a gray zone where one side’s rights overlap another’s, but the law by its very nature has to draw a fine line somewhere. And in Colorado the state has decided that sexual orientation should be added to the list of "protected classes" in state anti-discrimination law, because of legislators' perception that not doing so leaves a vulnerable minority open to potentially widespread and harmful discrimination, and doing so does not meaningfully burden business persons’ religious liberty or other civil rights and liberties, such as “creative expression”.
Gay persons being able to purchase a wedding cake at ANY bakery open to the public, rather than only at MOST bakeries, may seem to persons like yourself to be a tiny and insignificant good, when weighted against the supposed loss of “creative expression” and/or “religious liberty” of a business owner, but please consider that all court rulings set precedents that can have very widespread consequences, and legislators in states that have added LGBT persons as a “protected class” don’t believe either creative expression or religious liberty are overly burdened by that addition, any differently than inclusion of other protected classes in antidiscrimination laws burden those freedoms.
Consider that the baker didn't only refuse to make a specific design; he flatly refused to sell any cake at all. I imagine he would have refused to sell even a plain sheet cake with blank white frosting, or an order of 20 dozen plain cookies. He wasn’t willing to discuss any details of the order, creative or otherwise. That speaks not so much to maintaining "creative" control, but to a blanket refusal to serve that couple on the same basis as any/all other couples seeking products at his establishment. That is against state laws governing businesses there. His intention and the details of his refusal matter. A ruling giving him and other proprietors in CO a blanket right to refuse this couple, and this bit of business, would set a precedent of freedom of conscience and/or “creative expression” being a get-out-of-following-laws-you-don't-like-free card.
In states where LGBT persons are not included in anti-discrimination laws, employers have fired employees for marrying same-sex partners, have refused to add their spouses to employee benefits and other forms on the same basis as they do employees' opposite-sex spouses; landlords have evicted them from rental property; hoteliers have refused to rent banquet halls and hotel rooms; restaurateurs have refused to let them come in and dine at all, whether for a wedding reception or a date or a casual family outing; doctors and day-care centers and other service providers have refused to serve them OR THEIR CHILDREN...And if "religious beliefs" can be an excuse in Colorado to refuse equal treatment to that class of persons , other protected classes can be freely discriminated against as well. Should a Christian baker be free to refuse to sell any wedding cakes to couples that eschew religion? Should he be allowed to refuse to sell one to atheists? Or how about to Wiccans or Hindus or others who do not marry in a ceremony that the Christian baker believes would please his personal god? What about non-“creative” businesses that could still claim to be devout and claim that they regard how they conduct their business as nevertheless being part of “practicing their faith”? Anyone can make that claim, not just those in an ostensibly “creative” business. Should a small local bank be allowed to refuse to write a mortgage for a gay couple or a non-Christian couple that otherwise qualify for a loan? Should a builder be allowed to refuse to build a home for them to live in? Nearly everyone could claim some tenuous connection to “participating” in some way in a relationship/marriage they see as “sinful”, and perhaps appeal to “creative expression” (building a house or a business structure, styling hair, cooking food, doing carpentry or painting or autobody repair, matting and framing artwork, doing landscaping, cooking food...) with about as much validity as the baker. And it is not at all inconceivable that in some small and conservative towns the combined economic power of businesses, employers, etc., could be used to inflict serious harm on this minority, in the very same way that other historic targets of such discrimination have been economically harmed by widespread discriminatory practices against other disfavored minorities in the past.
I understand that "religious liberty" is a very important and constitutionally-guaranteed right, but lawmakers in states that include sexual- and gender orientation as protected classes in antidiscrimination laws have recognized that for-profit businesses and business owners do not have their freedom to continue to BELIEVE as they wish, and to worship as they wish, meaningfully burdened by not being permitted to discriminate against LGBT persons in business and employment, any more than they have their religious liberty burdened by not being allowed to discriminate against any other protected classes. Behavior in business that would likely swiftly be labeled “Christian persecution” by religious-right conservatives if it were applied to a Christian couple by a non-Christian baker or other business person can’t also somehow be righteous “freedom of religion” and/or mere “freedom of expression” when applied by a Christian baker to some particular member of a “protected class” who doesn’t live exactly by that Christian’s personal standards of a God-approved life. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not allow governments to carve out extremely limited laws that protect only specific religious beliefs of specific groups, at the expense of the civil rights and liberties of vulnerable groups. So I hope the SCOTUS will say that Colorado is not acting unconstitutionally to say that “creative expression” cannot be used to justify discriminating against a same-sex couple, any more than it can a mixed-race or mixed-faith couple.
I’m sure you’ll harangue me for not responding to your complex example about prostitution in Nevada, but I have no idea what the laws are in Nevada, about protected classes or about prostitution as a “business of public accommodation”. In Colorado, the state has included sexual orientation as a protected class, and the Masterpiece bakeshop is a business of public accommodation. That is what is relevant in this case. And arguments about clergy persons being forced to perform weddings against their religious beliefs are strawman arguments; they are not treated as “businesses” and have full protection of the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment; not a single church or mosque or temple, or minister/priest/rabbi/imam, etc., has EVER been forced to perform a wedding or any other religious sacrament by government at any level in the U.S – not for same-sex couples, nor any other couples the clergy deem as not qualifying for such a sacrament/ritual/service. The true religious liberty of religious organizations and clergy are not endangered by laws mandating equal treatment of LGBTQ persons by businesses and non-religious employers.

Anonymous reply...

You said "he flatly refused to sell any cake at all". That is certainly a mischaracterization as he was asked for a Wedding cake and he simply said he doesn't do Gay wedding and that was the context. If I am not mistaken, the guy actually had many gay customers that he knew were gay and even employees. This is important because it shows a pattern of him only having issue with the "event" and not the person.
During the Civil Rights changes in the 60's the weighing of interests took place in the courts and it was determined that the rights of those being discriminated against were so pervasive that there was a need to supersede the rights of the business owners. You can imagine the extent of the issue that led to this in the 60's. In the year 2017, the issue at hand is nothing of that order and the courts should take that well into consideration when determining the weighing of interests. The interests are a constitutional interest on the Bakers side and therefore Colorado isn't the one that determines the weight ultimately given and they shouldn't be the one that would be allowed to take away rights from the business owner.
The bottom line here is that this is a designed outcry from the left to try to form the thoughts an police the citizens of the country. We will find out if it works or not from the Supreme Court soon enough.


I can't believe the ACLU is getting this one so wrong. This case is ALL about protection of the 1st Amendment right of a minority with unpopular beliefs. The belief in question is not whether to serve people on the basis of their sexual orientation, but whether vendors can object to being party to a ceremony that they find morally objectionable. If I'm a cake-baker, and I'm enlisted to provide a celebratory cake for the elevation of a new Grand Wizard of the KKK, I want my RIGHT to refuse service! Protection of those beliefs is what the 1st Amendment is FOR.


The ACLU throws in a case to try to protect speech rights of some radical right wingers just to try to say they are using the same rules for all, but it's clear they are a far left leaning organization. This case is a perfect example of where you would think they would be protecting speech rights, but they are trying to lead an agenda instead.


Stay Informed