DENVER — The cake shop at the center of a years-long legal dispute is open again after the owner returned to Colorado from a brief media tour.
Jack Phillips opened the doors to Masterpiece Cakeshop at 7 a.m. Thursday without much fanfare. The shop had been closed since 2 p.m. Monday, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision on his case.
The justices ruled 7-2 in favor of Phillips, who had refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012, spurring the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated Phillips’s legal rights when it showed bias against his religious views when it reviewed the case.
The result? The ruling and subsequent citing was overturned.
However, the justices did not take up the debate of religious freedom versus anti-discrimination laws.
Norman Provizer, a political science professor at Metro State University, said the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will not have widespread effects.
“Don’t take this as a carte blanche or kind of open season on doing whatever you want and just raise the religion flag and that’ll do it,” he said. “The opinion by (Justice Anthony) Kennedy very much focused on the actions of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and, in particular, a member of that commission.”
Provizer said the biggest takeaway from this case is that government entities need to watch their language when it comes to a person’s religion.
The ruling stems back to comments made by former commissioner Diann Rice, who compared Phillips’s religious justifications to defend discrimination, as well as slavery and the Holocaust, for years.
The Supreme Court ruled those comments should never have been made by a governing body in deliberating a case.
Little from this case can be applied to other store owners who refuse services for same-sex couples.
“It is not a clear-cut victory for one side or the other in the sense that some people might want to see it,” Provizer said. “It’s not a complete defeat for one side and it’s not a complete victory for the other.”
In the short-term, this means Phillips can return to business as usual. During a nationally televised interview, Phillips said he plans on starting to make custom wedding cakes again soon.
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During a phone conference with media Monday, his defense team couldn’t say when he would resume making cakes because they wanted to make sure everything was in order legally first.
“He’s entitled to follow his conscience in this area without facing punishment for going against anti-discrimination laws,” Provizer said. “That’s what it means for him right now. What it means for other people down the road… that remains to be seen.”
Even if another lawsuit is brought against Phillips, Provizer doubts it will make it all the way to the Supreme Court again. However, there are already several lawsuits that could once again spur the debate about religious freedom versus anti-discrimination laws.
“I don’t think that’s going to be resolved for quite some time,” Provizer said.
Part of the reason this case was not the ideal one to have a major debate about a person’s constitutional rights was how the Civil Rights Commission acted, he said. The other major factor was the fact that Phillips did not refuse to sell everything to the couple, only custom wedding cakes.
Other cases, such as Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, might be better suited for a philosophical debate over the constitution. In that instance, Barronelle Stutzman refused to make floral arrangements for a same-sex couple’s wedding. Unlike the Masterpiece Cake Shop case, there are no allegations of unfair treatment by the state courts in this case.
“There’s a pretty big playing field right now for cases to come on,” Provizer said. “There are some balancing acts that never end on the Supreme Court. I mean, we always think at some point there’s going to be a clear, definitive answer… but that is not the way it really works.”
He said he believes the debate between freedom of religion versus anti-discrimination laws depends on the membership of the Supreme Court at any given moment in history. Provizer pointed to Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to end her pregnancy. He said even after that ruling, people are still debating to this day whether abortions should be allowed.
“We like to think that all good things go together and that everything fits together… but they don’t always fit together,” he said. “It’s not a question of one right, it’s a question of the clash of rights and that’s very prominent and constitutional law.”
Denver7 has been working with Phillips’s legal team for an interview about the Supreme Court’s ruling.