Muslim Advocates: An Assessment of the Stakes, Ahead of Masterpiece Cakeshop Oral Arguments

Washington, DC – The following is a statement from Johnathan Smith, Legal Director ahead of today’s oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission:

At issue in Masterpiece Cakeshop is whether businesses can rely on religious justifications in order to avoid compliance with state antidiscrimination laws.  In this case, Jack Phillips, a cake baker from Lakewood, Colorado, refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing his religious beliefs against same-sex marriage.

As explained in the amicus curiae brief we submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, Phillip’s argument are fundamentally flawed. Religious liberty and non-discrimination are inextricably tied. Religious minorities have long relied critically on the protection of anti-discrimination and civil rights laws. To erode those laws would be to undermine their ability to freely exercise their religions.  As explained in our brief, our country’s “constitutional commitment to religious liberty has always entailed a corollary commitment to non-discrimination. Indeed, the integrity of the former has always relied upon the enforcement of the latter. ”

Anti-discrimination laws have long protected the rights of religious minorities. Thus, the decision must not be religious freedom or anti-discrimination laws, but rather an understanding of religious freedom as relying importantly on the protection of civil rights laws. Otherwise, we risk undercutting both liberties to the detriment of all Americans.

A ruling in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop would undermine fundamental civil rights protections that are critical for maintaining this country’s longstanding commitments to religious freedom and religious pluralism.

Background Information

In October, Muslim Advocates and Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project filed an amicus brief  in the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on behalf of a coalition of 15 diverse civil rights and faith organizations. View the amicus brief here.  

The coalition of civil rights and faith organizations that submitted this amicus brief to the Supreme Court represent the vast diversity within American faith communities.  The signatories include: Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, Muslim Advocates, Muslim Public Affairs Council, American Humanist Association, DignityUSA, Sikh Coalition, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Capital Area Muslim Bar Association, Advocates for Youth, Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, National LGBT Bar Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association.

The amicus brief was authored by Muslim Advocates, Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, and the law firm Hogan Lovells.  The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop on Tuesday, December 5.

Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths.