Colorado Court Correct To Uphold Anti-Discrimination Statute

Businesses Do Not Have A Constitutional Right to Discriminate, Church-State Watchdog Says

The Colorado Court of Appeals has protected the constitutional rights of same-sex couples and ruled against a baker seeking a “religious freedom” right to discriminate, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says. Americans United had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

Jack Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., refused to make a cake for the wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012. At the time, Phillips cited his religious beliefs as justification for his refusal. Craig and Mullins then filed a complaint with the Colo. Civil Rights Division, which found that the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination statute. He was ordered to stop discriminating against same-sex couples, and to file regular compliance reports with the state.

He appealed that decision, arguing that the statute violated his religious freedom rights. Today, the appeals court rejected that argument.

“The fact that an entity charges for its goods and services reduces the likelihood that a reasonable observer will believe that it supports the message expressed in its finished product,” the court ruled. “Nothing in the record supports the conclusion that a reasonable observer would interpret Masterpiece’s providing a wedding cake for a same-sex couple as an endorsement of same-sex marriage, rather than a reflection of its desire to conduct business in accordance with Colorado’s public accommodations law.”

“We commend the court’s ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, Americans United’s associate legal director. “Once a business opens its doors to the public, it has no right to ignore anti-discrimination laws and impose its religious beliefs on its customers.”

The brief was prepared by 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.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.