The U.S. Supreme Court Just handed down a 7-2 decision in favor of the baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, saying that the baker had the First Amendment right to not bake and decorate a wedding cake for a gay couple as that violated his sincerely held religious beliefs.

What does this mean for your business?

Most likely nothing. The decision is very narrowly tailored to where strongly held religious beliefs clash with other civil rights. The court was careful to note that the baker was willing to make a birthday cake for the gay couple, but not a wedding cake, as he felt that would violate his religious beliefs.

They pointed out that no one would expect that a "member of the clergy who objects to gay marriage on moral and religious grounds" could be "compelled to perform the ceremony without denial of his or her right to the free exercise of religion." Yet, we wouldn't want to extend that protection to everyone and everything related to marriage. Could a chair rental company refuse to rent chairs to a wedding they disagreed with?

Under this decision, no. The court relied on the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop's description that a cake is an artistic expression and therefore covered by the First Amendment. The result would have been different if the baker "refused to sell any goods or any cakes for gay weddings."

In other words, the refusal has to directly meet two qualifications:

  1. The refusal is related to free speech and expression
  2. The person refusing has sincerely held religious beliefs.

If you, or one of your employees, has a strong religious belief that prohibits him or her from creating something for a customer, you're not required to do so. If it's an employee who has an objection, you would have to offer a reasonable accommodation to the employee to not participate in the speech-related activity.

This court specifically said this case does not decide all other pending cases involving the conflict between religious views and gay marriage, and they will have to be further hammered out in the courts. In other words, neither side should consider this matter resolved.

The big takeaway for business: You need to see both sides.

The Supreme Court blasted the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's handling of the case. They wrote:

That consideration was compromised, however, by the Commission's treatment of Philips' case, which showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection. As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the Commission's formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips' faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. No commissioners objected to the comments. Nor were they mentioned in the later state-court ruling or disavowed in the briefs filed here. The comments thus cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission's adjudication of Phillips' case.

In other words, the court didn't believe that the commission looked at the case fairly, and as such, they couldn't trust the outcome of the decision.

While your business doesn't do public investigations, you will have to investigate employee complaints regarding sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and the like. If you come into it biased against one side and with your mind already made up, you're doing it wrong. If you can't conduct an impartial investigation to make a well-reasoned decision, hire someone from the outside.

Published on: Jun 4, 2018