Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – welcomed this morning’s ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case arose from the cake shop owner declining, on the basis of his religious beliefs, to design and sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission then ruled that the baker, Jack Phillips, was in violation of the state’s civil rights law. Mr. Phillips appealed that ruling to the federal courts.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 7-2 decision (in which Justices Kagan and Breyer concurred), held that the state commission had violated the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom in ruling against the baker because the commission had displayed “clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated [the baker’s] objection.”
Justice Kennedy’s opinion elaborated on this citing a commissioner’s statement that Mr. Phillips’ religious objections were “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” and that the commissioner “went so far as to compare Phillips’…sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.”
Moreover, the majority opinion compared the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s differential treatment of the Phillips case with the Commission’s treatment of cases of other bakers who refused to bake cakes with messages disapproving of same-sex marriage. The Commission found those refusals of service to be lawful. This discrepancy of treatment by the state authorities is one of the key arguments submitted to the Supreme Court in a friend-of the-court brief in which the Orthodox Union joined.
Nathan J. Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy, stated:
“Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is incredibly important – especially coming with a 7-2 vote. Too many pundits and politicians have lately engaged in rhetoric that seeks to paint religious liberty in a negative light, especially as they seek to advance policies to which some have sincere dissent. Today, the United States Supreme Court sent a clear message: that the demonization of religious beliefs – especially in policymaking – is constitutionally unacceptable. We hope this will lead to more constructive and productive engagement on these important matters going forward.”
Mark (Moishe) Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, stated:
“Strong constitutional protections for religious liberty are the bedrock for the Orthodox Jewish community – and so many other faith communities – in the United States. This is even more important when it comes to beliefs and practices that are not shared by others or societal attitudes that have changed over time. (We need only look today to democratic countries in Europe where the rites of bris milah and shechitah are under assault.) What distinguishes the United States is its First Amendment protection of religious liberty which defends even those with whom the majority or the elites may disagree. We are deeply grateful that a clear majority of Supreme Court justices venerated these crucial principles.”