Apr 25, 2016

The Colorado Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional rights of same-sex couples by refusing to hear a religious-freedom challenge to a state anti-discrimination ordinance, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

Americans United had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. This action is part of Americans United’s Protect Thy Neighbor project, which seeks to stop religion-based discrimination against LGBT persons and others.

“The Colorado Supreme Court made the right call. There was no reason to hear this case,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Religious freedom is an important constitutional principle, but it doesn’t guarantee businesses the right to deny people services and discriminate against them.”

Added Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s associate legal director, “Religious freedom must not be used to justify hate and bigotry. Doing so demeans one of our most precious constitutional rights.”

In 2012, Jack Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, refused to bake a cake for the wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins. Phillips cited his religious beliefs as the motivation for his refusal. Craig and Mullins then filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which found the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination ordinance. He was ordered to stop discriminating against LGBT customers and to submit regular compliance reports to the state.

Phillips appealed that decision, claiming that its stipulations violated his First Amendment rights. An appellate court rejected that argument in 2015. He then appealed that verdict to the state Supreme Court. 

AU’s brief in the case was prepared by former Americans United Madison Fellow Zachary Dietert and former Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, with input from Luchenitser. It was joined by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The case is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.