Craig & Mullins v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc. & Phillips, and Colorado Civil Rights Commission
Colorado Court of Appeals, Division 1, No. 14CA1351
and U.S. Supreme Court, No. 16-111
Keywords: diversity, civil rights, LGBT, discrimination, business, constitution, First Amendment, religion
A Colorado cake shop owner would not sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Commission decided that, under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, the cake shop owner could not discriminate against customers because of their sexual orientation. The owner said this decision violated his First Amendment rights, and he appealed. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with the Commission.
The Colorado cake shop owner filed a request for the Supreme Court to hear the case. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on December 5, 2017 and decided on June 4, 2018.
Facts of the Case
In July 2012, Craig and Mullins visited Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Lakewood, CO bakery owned by Phillips. The couple asked Phillips to design and create a cake to celebrate their wedding. Phillips declined but offered to make any other cake for the couple. Phillips will not create cakes celebrating any marriage that is against his understanding of the Bible. Phillips believes God meant marriage to be the holy union between a man and a woman.
The couple said they were discriminated against. They filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Because the cake shop is a business that must comply with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), the Commission determined that Phillips had violated the CADA. The Commission did not accept Phillips’ First Amendment defense of free speech and free exercise of religion. The Commission ordered him to:
- Create custom wedding cakes for same-sex marriages if he creates similar cakes for one-man-one-woman marriages,
- Retrain his staff to do the same, and
- Report to the Commission every order he refuses, for any reason, for a period of two years.
Phillips challenged the decision and the Colorado Court of Appeals heard the case. Phillips argued:
- He did not discriminate against the couple based on sexual orientation. He discriminated against them because of his opposition to same sex marriage;
- Requiring him to make custom wedding cakes to celebrate same-sex weddings went against the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and
- Requiring him to create custom wedding cakes for same-sex weddings was against his religious values and violated the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment.
Issues of the Case
- Did Phillips violate CADA by refusing to serve a same-sex couple based on their sexual orientation?
- Did the Commission’s order violate the shop owner’s constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion?
Arguments & Analysis
1. Did Phillips violate CADA by refusing to serve a same-sex couple based on their sexual orientation?
CADA does not allow businesses to discriminate against or refuse to serve customers because of their sexual orientation. Phillips said that making cakes for same-sex weddings sends a message that he objects to for religious reasons. He said that the public would think he approved of the message. Phillips claimed he did not violate CADA because he did not object to serving all customers regardless of their sexual orientation.
The Colorado Court of Appeals decided that a reasonable person would know that obeying the law did not reflect the cake shop owner’s beliefs. The court said that discrimination, based on not approving of same-sex marriage, is discrimination based on sexual orientation. They rejected Phillips’ argument, which was that he did not violate the CADA because he was willing to sell other products to gay and lesbian customers.
The Court ruled unanimously that Phillips violated CADA by refusing to make a wedding cake for the couple’s same-sex wedding.
2. Did the Commission’s order violate the shop owner’s constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion?
The Freedom of Speech Clause of the First Amendment says the government cannot tell private citizens “what they must say.” The Colorado Court of Appeals turned down Phillips’ defense that the CADA required him to say he approved of same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court does not consider conduct as “speech” when the person intends to express an idea by the conduct. The Court of Appeals said that making custom cakes was “conduct” (e.g. actions) and not pure speech (e.g. spoken words, books, newspapers, and rallies). The court stated that the conduct, or action, of making cakes was not speech protected by the First Amendment.
The Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise [of religion].” The U.S. Constitution requires each state to provide the same rights, privileges, and protections to all state citizens. States also must follow federal laws according to the U.S. Constitution. Phillips said that forcing him to create custom wedding cakes for same-sex weddings went against his religious values and against the Free Exercise of Religion Clause.
The court said the public was not likely to see the making of a cake for a same-sex wedding as a sign of Phillip’s religious beliefs. The court also said that a reasonable/sensible person would understand that obeying the law is not a reflection of Phillips beliefs.
CADA forbids any place of business to discriminate because of a customers’ sexual orientation The court said that CADA’s ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation by places of business was reasonable one. They also ruled that it did not go against the First Amendment. The court concluded that the Commission’s decision only required that Phillips not discriminate against customers. It did not keep him from exercising free speech or his religious beliefs.
- Phillips’ refusal to create a wedding cake for the same-sex couple was unlawful sexual orientation discrimination under CADA.
- The Commission’s decision and order was reasonable and did not offend Phillips’ First Amendment rights.
Policy & Practice
If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, it could affect other businesses that provide custom services or products. These business owners could also claim a right to discriminate under the First Amendment. This could include discrimination of customers based on their sexual orientation, race, religion and/or disability. This kind of decision could weaken many protections against discrimination.
- U.S. Supreme Court – Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc. (2018)
- U.S. Supreme Court – Petition for a Writ of Certiorari (2016) [ PDF ]
- Colorado Court of Appeals – Craign vs. Masterpiece Cake, Inc. (2015) [ PDF ]
These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time. In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.