The premise of a
recent religious freedom and LGBT rights dispute is centered around a wedding cake.

Five years ago, David Mullins and Charlie Craig entered a bakery in Colorado,
Masterpiece Cakeshop, requesting a cake for their wedding reception from the
owner, Jack Philips (Saffran, 2017). He declined, saying it was against his
Christian religious and moral values to bake a cake for a homosexual couple
(Saffran, 2017). A legal battle developed as Philips was found to be in
violation of Colorado law against unlawful discrimination (De Vogue, 2017). According
to Colorado state law, businesses are banned from discriminating against
customers based on their race or sexual orientation (Wolf, 2017). As stated by
Philips, however, baking custom-made cakes is an artistic practice using his
“God-given talents” and he cannot legally be forced to create his artistic work
with a message that goes against his moral beliefs “that marriage is between a
man and a woman” (De Vogue, 2017). Philips and his legal team are seeking to
prove that legally forcing him to bake the cake will violate his 1st
Amendment rights (Wolf, 2017). On the other side of the case, the American Civil
Liberties Union, representing Mullins and Craig, will argue that the 1st
Amendment does not protect Philips’ unlawful discrimination based solely on their
sexual orientation and granting businesses the right to violate these rights is
unconstitutional (Wolf, 2017). The Supreme Court will rule on the case in 2018.

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This case raises
the significant question if businesses can depend on religious justifications
to disregard state discrimination laws. If Philips wins this case, it would set
a precedent for future businesses to share their religious beliefs and deny
services from homosexual couples (Wolf, 2017). This could create and warrant a
form of protected, systemic discrimination against certain groups that are
against businesses’ beliefs to serve. For example, a same-sex couple could be
denied a wedding photographer because it was against the photographer’s religious
beliefs to support people of the same sex getting married. A ruling in favor of
Philips not only opens the door to this argument, but also reverts back to a
bygone era of structured discrimination (Stohr, 2017). Justice Stephen Breyer
shared his opinion on the case saying that it could “undermine every civil
rights law from the year 2” (Wolf, 2017). This could be exceedingly dangerous
for a country that prides itself in being racially and religiously heterogeneous.

If Mullins and Craig win the case, it will set a model for future cases that
first Amendment freedoms cannot be used to excuse forms of blatant
discrimination against specific groups in society (Stohr, 2017). This case illustrates
the importance of the social implementation of legislature.

Various previous
religious liberty cases may set the precedent for the result of this case. In
1972, Wisconsin v. Yoder the Supreme
Court displayed immense agreement and support for religious liberty, holding
that the 1st Amendment right to freedom of religion was superior to
the state’s interests. This changed in 1990, however, when the justices in Employment Division, Department of Human
Resources of Oregon v. Smith ruled that religious beliefs were not valid
grounds to refuse to obey state laws. Most recently in 2014, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby held that in
order to protect their owner’s religious liberty, companies had the right to refuse
contraceptive benefits. The ruling of this case was upheld and directly implemented
when the Trump administration permitted all employers a religious exemption to
the contraception coverage mandated by the Affordable
Care Act in 2017 (Pear, 2017). The recurrent debate between upholding state
laws as opposed to protected freedoms has plagued the United States throughout
history, as demonstrated in these cases.

The outcome of
this case will also heavily impact LGBT equality rights. The social
conservative movement has continually advocated for religious liberties, using
this constitutional protection as a force against gay rights after the national
legalization of same-sex marriage in Obergefell
v. Hodges (2015). These anti-LGBT groups, lawmakers, and supporters have
fought for the regulation of religious freedoms as an admissible defense in legal
proceedings, evident in Indiana’s Religious
Freedom Restoration Act in 2015. Indiana was the twentieth state to adopt
this type of law (Epps, 2017). Various forms of governmental discriminations
against marginalized groups in society have become somewhat customary recently,
ranging from excluding LGBT citizens as a category on the 2020 Census to
barring transgender troops from the military (Scott, 2017). President Donald
Trump shared his commentary on this case that businesses should be allowed to
hang signs on their windows saying they will not serve LGBT clients (Stohr,
2017). In response to this, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy expressed that it would
be an “affront to the gay community” if this were to happen (Stohr, 2017). It
is seemingly evident that the LGBT population around the United States now faces
an impending risk of becoming second-class citizens. This case ignites a
national debate concerning far more than just the implementation of protected freedoms
and state laws, but life-changing steps towards or away from social equality.