After the Masterpiece Cake Ruling, What’s Next for Religious Bigotry?

On June 5, the Supreme Court settled Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, siding with baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding celebration. But the extremely narrow ruling did little to clarify whether or not religious businesses are allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ customers — or if they’re protected by a claim of religious liberty.

Now, civil rights advocates hope a whole cadre of new cases will get a far more direct answer.

Any Monday now, we’ll learn if the Supreme Court will take up Arlene’s Flowers vs. Washington State, another Alliance Defending Freedom-orchestrated civil rights tester. Like Phillips, Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman was found guilty of discrimination based on sexual orientation after she refused to create flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Stutzman’s case makes a far clearer challenge than Masterpiece, since SCOTUS didn’t decide that Phillips was justified in his actions — only that the Colorado Commission didn’t treat him fairly due to their “anti-religious bias.” Stutzman’s case shouldn’t have that issue — if the court says they want to hear it, then odds are they want to make a statement about “allowable” discrimination, whatever that may be.

Arlene’s Flowers will likely be the next major signal on the Supreme Court’s views regarding the constitutionality of discrimination — as long as a person claims it’s religious based — but it definitely won’t be the last.

Soon to hit the deck? States that are allowing religious organizations that assist in the foster care or adoption process to refuse to consider LGBTQ couples as potential homes for children.

Reuters reports:

Nine states have laws allowing state-funded, religiously affiliated adoption agencies to refuse to place children with gay people based on religious beliefs. Republican-governed Kansas and Oklahoma passed such laws this year. Alabama, Mississippi, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia all have similar laws.

Legal challenges to those laws, some pending in lower courts, eventually could come to the Supreme Court. The high court’s ruling on narrow grounds in favor of baker Jack Phillips did not spell out the circumstances under which religious objections to discrimination claims would have legal merit.

In order to get a win on something as big as that, however, the religious right will likely want to set some smaller precedents to build on — and wedding-based lawsuits are the vehicle that they’re using.

Following the train of wedding cakes and wedding flowers comes wedding invitations, in a religious liberty lawsuit out of Arizona. Brush & Nib Studio in Phoenix preemptively sued the city over its anti-discrimination bill, claiming that they should have the right to refuse to create wedding invitations for same-sex couples who request them. Phoenix said no, and the two female owners challenged the city’s ruling, which was heard by the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The appeals court agreed with Phoenix, and now says that the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling changes nothing, since SCOTUS didn’t rule on the merits of Phillips’s claim.

“There is no evidence in the record to support any suggestion that Phoenix’s adoption of (the ordinance) or its interpretation as it relates to Brush & Nib, has been anything other than neutral toward and respectful of their sincerely-expressed religious beliefs,” the court said, according to Fox News.

Bigotry against LGBTQ people under the name of “religious freedom” has so far been mostly contained to the wedding industry. But, of course, this discrimination will inevitably spread — and we already see signs of it happening.

In Indiana, a teacher is fighting what he calls a forced resignation, after refusing to follow a district policy requiring staff refer to transgender students by their preferred names, rather than the ones on their birth certificates. High school orchestra teacher John Kluge says asking him to do so violates his free speech, and that he has a religious objection to the policy.

“I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that’s a dangerous lifestyle,” he said, according to IndyStar. “I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing.”

Of course, the most “dangerous” aspect of a trans teen’s lifestyle is the likelihood of committing suicide because they are rejected, misgendered and dead-named — being called by their birth name versus the name of their identified gender.

At this point, we are only at the tip of the iceberg as far as the right’s attempts to dismantle civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community go. Refusing to participate in weddings is just testing the waters for far more serious discrimination down the road. The end goal is to eliminate all state, city or federal anti-discrimination policies that make it a crime to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification.

And right now, they’re just barely getting started.

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan/Flickr


Amanda M
Amanda M2 days ago

Pam W, if I could send you a truckload of Green Stars in one hour, I would! I agree that if a business insists on using their deity as an excuse for refusing to serve someone, then they should say so on their doors. That way those of us who disagree with their willfully ignorant, religion-based bigotry are able to vote with our wallets and shun them outright by not even wasting time going into their businesses in the first place! And I fear that the Rethuglican Religious Reich will see this "victory" as an excuse to expand their bias against LGBTQs, to say nothing of giving them carte blanche to discriminate against other people that rub them the wrong way, such as non-Christians, women (especially in health care-want to go back to pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control, anybody?), minorities (even though I'm white, I would definitely want to boycott a white supremacist!), etc. We CANNOT let this country go backwards on genuine equality!

Karen H
Karen H3 days ago

I agree with Pam W that those who choose to discriminate need to put up signs. Of course, their goal may simply be to humiliate.

silja salonen
silja s4 days ago

this administration is about hate and fear ...

Winn A
Winnie A5 days ago


Janis K
Janis K5 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Leo Custer
Leo C5 days ago

Thank you for posting!

Joan E
Joan E5 days ago

I thought religion was supposed to be about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. I'm seeing more "I'm better than you, and I won't treat you like any other human being who needs the type of service my business provides."

Danuta W
Danuta W5 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

Margaret F
Margaret F6 days ago

There is a difference between a "religious business" and a "religious businessman" . The writer uses "religious business" early in the article. A business based on religion likely would only serve a particular customer, not the whole of society. A public business must serve equally. I hope the SC thinks the same.

Chad Anderson
Chad A6 days ago

Awful stuff.