The Department of Justice on Thursday
filed a brief in a case pending before the Supreme Court in support
of a Colorado baker who refused to serve a gay couple.
In 2012, Jack Phillips, the owner of
Denver-based Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to consider baking a cake
for Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig. The men married in Massachusetts
and wanted to buy a cake from Phillips for their Denver reception.
Phillips said that serving the couple would violate his religious
faith. Colorado at the time recognized gay and lesbian couples with
civil unions, not marriage.
The couple sued, saying that Phillips'
faith does not give him a right to discriminate, and a Colorado court
found that Phillips had discriminated against the men under Colorado
law. After the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal,
Phillips turned to the Supreme Court, arguing that the First
Amendment protects his religious rights.
In its 41-page amicus brief, the
Justice Department sides with Phillips.
“Forcing Phillips to create
expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his
sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights
in a manner akin to the governmental intrusion in Hurley,”
lawyers for the government wrote. “Colorado has not offered, and
could not reasonably offer, a sufficient justification for that
The Justice Department, under the
leadership of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also argues that
sexual orientation discrimination is not on the same footing as
discrimination based on race.
“[L]aws targeting race-based
discrimination may survive heightened First Amendment scrutiny. … A
State's 'fundamental, overriding interest' in eliminating private
racial discrimination … may justify even those applications of a
public accommodations law that infringe on First Amendment freedoms.
The same cannot be said for opposition to same-sex marriage,” the
“The Court has not similarly held
that classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to
strict scrutiny or that eradicating private individuals’ opposition
to same-sex marriage is a uniquely compelling interest. To the
contrary, the Court has recognized that opposition to same-sex
marriage ‘long has been held – and continues to be held – in
good faith by reasonable and sincere people,' and that ‘[m]any who
deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on
decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises.'”
In July, Sessions spoke at the Alliance
Defending Freedom's (ADF) Summit on Religious Liberty in Orange
County, California, where he told attendees that protecting religious
freedom would be a priority under his leadership. ADF is
representing Phillips in his case.
who refused gay couple says Jesus would do the same.)