Fairness Joins Brief in Supreme Court Case

Read the brief here: Americans United for Separation of Church and State

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization has joined with religious and civil rights groups on a friend of the court brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that will be heard by the United States Supreme Court in early December and that threatens to upend nondiscrimination protections in the Mountain State and beyond.

Fairness West Virginia joins Americans United for Separation of Church and State, The Anti-Defamation League, People for the American Way Foundation, The National Council of Jewish Women, The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, in asking the high court to uphold a lower court ruling that Masterpiece Cakeshop unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple in 2012 by refusing to serve them. Together, the groups assert that religious freedom and equal protection work hand in hand to protect all from discrimination.

When Charlie Craig and David Mullins walked into the bakery in Lakewood, Colorado, all they wanted was a cake to celebrate the happiest day of their lives. They deserved the same services offered to other customers, but shop owner Jack Phillips refused to make a cake for their wedding reception because they are gay.

“This case is not about something as trivial as cake,” said Andrew Schneider, Fairness West Virginia executive director. “It is about fundamental fairness and equality.”

“We believe that the constitutional protections for religious freedom serve to safeguard against discrimination, not to facilitate it,” he said. “We join this brief because the petitioners seek a broad-based license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, thus threatening to undermine the record number of municipal nondiscrimination ordinances recently adopted in West Virginia.”

The brief contends that permitting this sort of discrimination runs counter to the ideals embodied by the First Amendment.

“In short, if the Free Exercise Clause licensed religiously motivated denials of service to same-sex couples, as petitioners contend, then it would appear to sanction and authorize other religiously motivated denials, including exclusions based on the customers’ faith, in just the same way. One could be refused employment, thrown out of a hotel, and barred from purchasing a cup of coffee just for being of the wrong religion (or race, or sex, or sexual orientation), and no federal, state, or local authority could do anything to remedy the situation. Not only would that outcome be the antithesis of promoting religious freedom, but it would foment civic ‘divisiveness based upon religion that promotes social conflict’ —the very evil that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment were designed to forestall,” the brief states.

Schneider pointed out that there is an extensive body of case law that supports Fairness West Virginia’s position.

“For more than half a century, the United States Supreme Court has been rejecting assertions that the First Amendment grants people and businesses the right to discriminate, and we urge this Court to reach the same conclusion.”

Examples of previous cases include Newman v. Piggie Park, in which the owner of a barbecue chain unsuccessfully argued his religious beliefs should allow him to continue refusing service to African-Americans after the passage of the Civil Rights Act; Bob Jones University v. United States, in which the university unsuccessfully argued that it could refuse to admit interracial couples or students who supported interracial marriage; and Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, in which a newspaper failed to convince the court it had a First Amendment right to post employment ads separately for men and women.

CONTACT BILLY WOLFE | 681.265.9064 | billy@fairnesswv.org