Mixed reactions are pouring in after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused an order for a same-sex wedding cake and set off a five-year legal battle.
The news Monday morning of a lopsided 7-2 decision in favor of Phillips initially stunned the public, especially since that meant some liberal justices had sided with religious freedom – or so it appeared – over legal claims of discrimination against a homosexual couple.
But further reading of the court's majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, suggested a narrowly written opinion that scolded the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for its hostile conduct over Phillips' religious views as the owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop.
Abe Hamilton, general counsel for the American Family Association, tells OneNewsNow that the nation's high court had the opportunity to "slam the door" on the ongoing legal fight over a business owner's religious faith conflicting with anti-discrimination laws that favor same-sex marriage.
A ruling from the Supreme Court has been deemed even more urgent after the landmark Obergefell ruling struck down marriage laws in more than 30 states, tilting legal precedent in favor in LGBT rights over wedding-related vendors such as bakers, photoraphers, and florists who, like Phillips, keep losing in court.
But the high court, Hamilton says, failed to do so.
"In fact, what I've read so far through the opinion, it gives the indication that Justice Kennedy based the bulk of his reasoning in this opinion on the Colorado commission's overt hostility towards Christianity," Hamilton, a former county prosecutor, observes. "Almost giving the indication that if [the commission] had been a little bit more discreet, maybe they could have concluded in their direction."
The two homosexuals who were turned away at Masterpiece Cake Shop appealed to the liberal civil rights commission, which predictably sided with the plaintiffs. Phillips was ordered to sell wedding cakes for homosexuals and to sit through a training class on LGBT rights, a demand that critics likened to a Big Brother-like re-education camp.
Phillips, meanwhile, has maintained that he didn't turn away the two customers because they are homosexual but instead turned down the order they requested, likening the wedding cake to Halloween cakes with demonic images, and bawdy bachelor cakes, he has also refused to create due to his moral and religious beliefs about the proper use of his artistic talents.
Yet the transcripts of two public hearings held by the civil rights commission found their way in front of the nine justices, who noted blatant, anti-religious statements expressed by commissioners who likened Phillips' religious beliefs to Nazis and slave owners.
Faced with such obvious bias, says Hamilton, the Supreme Court was "duty bound" to rule against the civil rights commission.
Liberty Counsel attorney Mat Staver tells OneNewsNow that the ruling, in fact, leaves open the ongoing legal debate over First Amendment rights and LGBT rights. But, he says, the ruling itself favored Phillips.
"Any victory on this particular issue is good," he insists. "It could have gone the other way and it would have been a catastrophe."
Staver also notes that the Supreme Court was unhappy to learn that the civil rights commission had treated Phillips completely different from a second Colorado resident who attempted three times – without success – to order a cake celebrating traditional marriage. Three bakers in the state refused that order – and the civil rights commission sided with the bakery owners over that customer.
After reading through the high court's opinion, Staver also noticed that two justices, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, pushed for free speech rights over Phillips' free exercise rights in their written opinion that concurred with the majority.
"And I think they're right," says Staver. "And I think in a future decision, when the Court has more information, it will be the free speech clause that will be the focus, and I believe that there will be a good precedent to win that case."