By Bloomberg
June 4, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a finding that a Colorado baker illegally discriminated when he refused to make a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding.

The narrow ruling didn’t reach the broad free-speech and religious-rights issues that had prompted the justices to take up the case. A seven-justice majority said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission finding in the baker’s case was tainted by animus toward religion.

Writing for the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed to one commissioner’s comments that religion had been used to justify slavery and the Holocaust and that invoking religion to hurt others is “despicable.”

“The commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” Kennedy wrote.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Two other members of the court’s liberal wing, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, joined the majority while writing separately to say they read court’s opinion as a limited one.

The Civil Rights Commission had required bakery owner Jack Phillips to either make cakes for gay weddings or stop making custom wedding cakes at all.

The dispute began in 2012, before gay marriage was legal in Colorado, when David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited Phillips’s suburban Denver bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop. The two men wanted a cake for a reception they planned to hold in Colorado after they married in Massachusetts.

Phillips told the couple he didn’t make cakes for same-sex weddings, prompting them to file a civil rights complaint. State officials joined the case against Phillips, and a Colorado appeals court ruled against the bakery.

The case is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 16-111.

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