Many commenters on this week’s Supreme Court decision concerning Masterpiece Bakery in Colorado have missed one of the more important aspects of the ruling. SCOTUSblog highlights it. Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.
The ground of decision was narrow, but not as narrow as many commentators will claim. It is based exclusively on the free exercise clause; the Supreme Court did not rule on the free speech claim. Exclusive reliance on free exercise narrows the opinion to sincere religious objectors, excluding simple bigots. And it helps narrow the decision to religious contexts, with weddings as the overwhelmingly dominant example. The court made nothing of these points.
What more obviously narrows the decision is that the Supreme Court based it on the state’s hostility to the baker’s religious faith. As evidence, the court pointed both to hostile comments from members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and to the commission’s inconsistent treatment of religious discrimination and sexual-orientation discrimination.
In the most egregious of the hostile statements, one commissioner blamed religion and religious freedom for slavery and the Holocaust and added that “it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.” The Supreme Court held such statements “inappropriate” in an adjudicatory body charged with “fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.”
Views of this sort are very common among those opposed to religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.
. . .
States will find it harder to conceal the other evidence of anti-religious hostility. While Masterpiece was pending in the state adjudication process, a William Jack went to three different bakers and asked for cakes with religious symbols and quotations hostile to same-sex marriage. When the bakers refused to make the cakes, he filed claims of religious discrimination. The commission found no discrimination in these cases, and what it said about these protected bakers was inconsistent with what it said about Masterpiece and its owner, Jack Phillips.
. . .
More fundamentally, the commission said that refusing to make a cake with a message celebrating same-sex marriage discriminated on the basis of the sexual orientation of the customer requesting that message, but that refusing to make a cake with a religious message opposing same-sex marriage did not discriminate on the basis of the religion of the customer requesting that message.
. . .
The court said that the inconsistent treatment of Phillips and the protected bakers showed hostility towards Phillips’ religious faith. Colorado had violated its duty “not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or a religious viewpoint.” The state must “proceed in a manner neutral toward and tolerant of Phillips’ religious beliefs.” The commission had been “neither tolerant nor respectful”; it had proceeded on the basis of “a negative normative ‘evaluation of the particular justification’ for his objection” (quoting Lukumi).
. . .
The Supreme Court has announced a powerful ideal. Even when a law has no explicit exceptions, hostile enforcement is unconstitutional. Single-issue agencies that enforce state civil-rights laws must approach claims to religious exemptions with tolerance and respect. And this is apparently an absolute rule; the court does not consider whether hostility might be justified by some state interest, compelling or otherwise.
There’s more at the link. Recommended reading for those interested in a more intricate study of the law and its consequences.
The final paragraph cited above is of critical importance. If the standard applied by SCOTUS in the Masterpiece decision carries over to other issues involving the Bill of Rights (including the Second Amendment), it holds far-reaching implications for the future of many of the rights that states and the federal government are seeking to regulate. Those of us concerned about attempts to neuter the Second Amendment by gun control activists may find that the Masterpiece decision adds a new arrow to our quivers.