January 24, 2018

US top court set to rule on religious rights; travel ban looms

26 June 2017, 05:27 | Doyle Barker

Children play on the playground at the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia Mo. Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

Children play on the playground at the Trinity Lutheran Child Learning Center in Columbia Mo

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on Monday in a closely watched religious rights case involving limits on public funding for churches and other religious entities as the justices issue the final rulings of their current term.

In 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a New Mexico photographer who refused her services for a same-sex commitment ceremony and was found to have violated that state's anti-discrimination law. Phillips told the couple that he would make a birthday cake but could not make a cake that would promote same-sex marriage due to his religious beliefs.

The U.S. Supreme Court will rule between Phillips' religious rights and the couple's right to equal treatment under the law, and whether Phillips discriminated against the couple. The dispute arises from Gorsuch's home state, and will provide an early test for how the conservative newcomer balances competing values.

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The decision to take on the case reflects renewed energy among the court's conservative justices, whose ranks have recently been bolstered by the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the high court.

The state's high court upheld a ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2015 that found Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips can not cite religious beliefs or free-speech rights in refusing to make the cake. The American Civil Liberties Union in 2012 filed a complaint on behalf of Mullins and Craig, saying Phillips had violated Colorado state law barring businesses from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation. While the wedding was held in MA, where same-sex marriage had been legal since 2004, the celebration was planned for back home in Colorado. As a result, Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, previously has lost in his effort to claim that the First Amendment protects his freedom of expression. He said he should not be compelled to bake a cake specifically to honor a same-sex marriage. The commission chose to bring a discrimination case against the bakery, and the state's top court upheld that decision. The state Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

On behalf of Phillips, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal nonprofit, petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case.

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