The issue of freedom of speech can be relevant in a business setting and an example of this is evident in a U. S. Supreme Court decision issued in June, 2018. This case raises questions about whether a person or company can refuse to provide goods and services to certain individuals on the basis that the refusal is an exercise of their religious beliefs that are protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment?
Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. is a Colorado bakery owned and operated by Jack Phillips. A same sex couple went to his store and tried to order a cake for their wedding celebration. Phillips told them that he would not sell them a wedding cake because of his religious opposition to same sex marriages, but that he would sell them other baked goods. The couple filed a charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission on the basis that Phillips violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based upon sexual orientation in a place of business engaged in any sales to the public. Phillips defended himself on the basis of the First Amendment because requiring him to create a cake for a same sex wedding would violate his right to free speech by compelling him to exercise his artistic talents to express a message that would violate his right to the free exercise of his religion. The Commission found that Phillips had violated the statute, and the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and held that the Commissions’ actions in enforcing the statute violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court case citation is Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, USSC, No. 16-111 (June 4, 2018), and you can find on the Supreme Court website at www.supremecourt.gov (Links to an external site.).
Please answer the following questions.
- Explain the difference between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment with respect to freedom of religion.
- The procedure of this case was an administrative hearing before a Colorado State Administrative Law Judge, whose decision was affirmed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, whose decision was affirmed by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Colorado Supreme Court (the highest state court in Colorado) declined to hear the case. Phillips than sought review by the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari and agreed to review the case. What right did the U.S. Supreme Court (a federal court) have to hear this case arising out of an interpretation of state law?
- Do you believe that there is any significance to the fact that freedom of speech (including freedom of religion) in contained in the First Amendment of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights? Do you believe that issues relating to freedom of speech should be given greater deference than other protected rights?
- Do you believe that the decision would have been different if the person in Phillips’ position claimed that his or her religious beliefs did not permit him or her to provide goods or services to any person who does not speak English instead of to persons who are entering a same sex marriage? Please explain.
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