The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled 7-2 in favor of Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop. Here are five key takeaways that affect ministries and community impact efforts:
- The Court ruled that Government must, in the context of the marketplace, treat people of faith with “neutral and respectful consideration.” Kennedy gave a knuckle-rap to the idea that Christians that disagree with same-sex marriage are akin to slaveowners or Nazis and that they must limit the exercise of their faith to the private sphere. Perhaps this will help with the tone of this debate.
- The Court stated explicitly that clergy may not be forced to perform same-sex weddings. This is significant because it is from Justice Kennedy, the same Justice who authored the same-sex marriage opinion. Here’s the full statement: “When it comes to weddings, it can be assumed that a member of the clergy who objects to gay marriage on moral and religious grounds could not be compelled to perform the ceremony without denial of his or her right to the free exercise of religion. This refusal would be well understood in our constitutional order as an exercise of religion, an exercise that gay persons could recognize and accept without serious diminishment to their own dignity and worth.” The Church is still the most protected space in First Amendment jurisprudence.
- The Court made this ruling on free exercise of religion grounds. Many legal scholars believed that the most pressing legal issue in the case was the issue of Free Speech (the right to speak necessarily extends to the right not to speak) because the case law surrounding the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment has greatly weakened Free Exercise protections. So, it is good news that the Court relied on the Free Exercise clause to make this ruling.
- The Court defended Jack Phillips’ conscience when many Christians did not. Ok. I may get in trouble for this one. But, the Supreme Court supported Jack Phillips’ right of conscience when many Christians distanced themselves from him. This case was never about whether or not you would or should bake the cake–it was never about your conscience. Rather, it was about whether or not Jack Phillips should be forced to violate his conscience. Sometimes, what we get in line to support in the Courtroom or in the public square may be different than what we draw the line over in our Church. For example, I would fight for the equal treatment of Christian churches and Muslim mosques in a zoning ordinance though I obviously disagree with Muslim doctrine. Why? Because I see the Gospel as the foundation of religious liberty. And, I believe that the Gospel will win in a free exchange of religious/philosophical ideas. I say again: this case was not about a cake. It was about a conscience. And, we should support the right of conscience for the Christian baker, the gay baker, the atheist baker, etc.
- The Court did not decide the clash of religious liberty and nondiscrimination laws. The Court decided this case on narrow grounds, citing the fact that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission displayed hostility toward Phillip’s religion. So, it is a win for Jack but not for other similarly situated parties. It remains to be seen how the Court will decide that clash.