The Court was giving this baker an out, which none today would have.
Then the Court left the decision there, with the Commission’s mishandling of its own discourse. Nor did the Court give a wink and a nod to all storeowners to discriminate away.
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The message here was that government needs to be neutral, indeed, not just neutral, but ruthlessly neutral when it considers religious claims. And it does not matter to the Court what religious faith it is facing.
According to the Court’s reasoning, the Commission would have to be as careful criticizing Nazism as it must be in considering evangelical Christianity.
At the time of the refusal, same-sex marriage was not yet legal.
In other words, the baker had more reason to think then that he was acting within the bounds of the law than he might, say, now, after .
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The case was a culture war waiting to erupt—evangelical Christians stood solidly behind the baker’s refusal to produce a cake for a wedding inconsistent with his faith and LGBTQ advocates stood with the couple’s right to obtain a cake from any merchant consistent with the public accommodations law. Instead, the Court, by a vote of 7-2, found that the Commission had expressed animus against the baker’s beliefs when Commissioners discussed the history of illegal behavior by religious entities and then mentioned Naziism and slavery in the context of referring to the baker’s beliefs against same-sex marriage.
Had either side decidedly won, which neither did, we would have had gloating on one side and disaffection on the other. Accordingly, the Court held that under the Free Exercise Clause the government may not express animus toward any religion.
It is a renewal of the eloquent statement in that, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” In short, believe what you will, because the government has no power to tell you otherwise.
Yet, the Court did not at any point say that the baker had a right to discriminate against any couple.
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