Looking Ahead After Cake Case Ruling


The icing hadn’t even dried, so to speak, on the much-anticipated decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Colorado cake case, but Jewish groups on either side of the gay rights/religious liberty debate are already girding for the next battle.

Monday’s narrow ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs did not decide if a business has the right to refuse to serve gay and lesbian couples outright.

“It’s not a decision about gay rights or about religious liberty. It’s about the adjudication process,” specifically language of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that was judged hostile to cake baker John Phillips’ religious beliefs, Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Committee and a church-state expert, told The Jewish Week. “I would not celebrate. I would not mourn — it’s much too early.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 7-2 majority, suggested as much. “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” Kennedy wrote.

And so, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, said in an email interview, “Given the narrow scope of the decision, which set no new precedent, similar cases will likely come forward in the future. We will need to work on the legal and legislative fronts to ensure that any new cases end with upholding and strengthening the equal rights of all.” 

The Anti-Defamation League promised to work the legislative front. “ADL will keep working with our partners to advocate for the passage of the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals across the country,” the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, religious liberty supporters in the Jewish community who were hoping for a more clear-cut decision were nonetheless gratified by the ruling.

“It is unfortunate that the ruling does not reach or provide clarity on the substantive issue of whether Mr. Phillips and other such proprietors faced with similar conflicts will find [constitutional] free exercise protection within the First Amendment,” said an Agudath Israel of America  statement. “Nonetheless, the court’s ruling is gratifying that it emphasizes that religious freedom concerns must be given a full and deserving measure of consideration, even within the context of local and state anti-discrimination law,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudah, a charedi umbrella organization, in an email interview.

“For a religious minority community, the masterpiece case is a big case, said Nathan Diament, Washington director for the Orthodox Union, told The Jewish Week in an email interview. “There’s a way to balance religious liberty and LGBT rights that doesn’t have to end in culture wars.

“The Supreme Court sent a clear message: that the demonization of religious beliefs — especially in policymaking — is constitutionally unacceptable,” Diament said.