Are Cakes Art? Mormons, Marriage, Religious Freedom, and the Supreme Court
December 6, 2017
For the Church of Jesus Christ of -Latter-day Saints, religious freedom is at stake with the upcoming ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
by Joel McDonald
Is the baking and decorating of a wedding cake a form of artistic expression? If so, can a baker refuse to create a cake for a same-sex couple based on their religious beliefs? These are the questions the United States Supreme Court are wrestling with now.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This case has its beginning in 2012. A gay couple went to Masterpiece Cakeshop to have a cake made for their upcoming wedding. The shop owner turned down their business, citing his religious beliefs. The couple made a discrimination complaint against the cake shop. An investigation of the complaint took place. The cake shop was found to be in violation of Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission and a Colorado court agreed with this ruling. The cake shop owner appealed to the United States Supreme Court and the court agreed to take the case.
Any ruling this case will have a significant impact on the debate over religious freedom. This is a cause that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been vigorously promoting. In September, the Church signed onto “friend of the court” filing in support of the cake shop owner. This brief argues that, “An individual who provides personal services like the creation of customized cakes should not be required to create them for an event—a wedding—that he believes is inherently religious, and that he believes is sinful because it conflicts with the fundamental nature of marriage as ordained by God.”
The Church is attempting to carve out religious exemptions in anti-discrimination laws. This is a shift in focus since failing to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US and beyond. “Religious freedom” is the new buzzword for Mormon leaders. The Church has sent high profile delegates to speak at many conferences on the subject.
The Masterpiece ruling will likely impact the LDS Church’s religious freedom efforts. If decided in favor of the cake shop owner, the Church’s efforts will be legitimized. Laws prohibiting discrimination will be strengthened if the ruling is in favor of the civil rights commission. Either way, this will be a landmark ruling; even if only applied to services requiring artistic expression. During oral arguments yesterday, this distinction appeared difficult to make. If cake bakers and decorators are included, why not hair stylists or makeup artists?
It is always difficult to make predictions about how the Supreme Court will rule based on oral arguments. From the questions asked by the justices yesterday, it appeared that a majority of the court may favor the cake shop. It is clear that any opinion from the court would need to thread a difficult needle. Justice Kennedy is seen as the key vote in this case. He expressed concern that a ruling in favor of the cake shop would allow similar businesses to have signs saying that same-sex couples would not be served. He said such signs would be, “an affront to the gay community.”