SCOTUS: Oregon Cake Case, Religious Liberties and Court Review

WASHINGTON, DC: With the nationally charged case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court had an opportunity to reaffirm America’s commitment to religious freedom. While religious liberty did prevail in Masterpiece Cakeshop, judicial restraint prevented the Court from establishing a generally applicable precedent. The unfortunate predicament of an Oregon married couple serves as a reminder that the Court did not fully resolve the encroaching threat to the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty in Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Melissa and Aaron Klein, a Christian couple in Oregon, owned and operated a bakery. However, because the Kleins objected to designing and creating a custom wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, the couple was found to be in violation of Oregon’s public accommodations law by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, a state agency akin to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In examples across the nation, too many state agencies feel empowered to act in total disregard of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom due to the precedent established in 1990 by the Supreme Court in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith. This case has been interpreted as holding that religious liberty claims are not entitled to the strictest of review by the Courts unless another fundamental liberty claim is also asserted. Instead, the Smith court held that religious liberty claims are subject only to the lowest level of review by courts – rational basis review.

The standard utilized by the Court is important because rational basis review allows the government to create a general claim of “protecting the public,” which then receives judicial deference. The Smith decision has been a true outlier, conflicting with the Court’s treatment of other First Amendment claims, particularly with the strict scrutiny historically afforded to religious liberty claims prior to the Smith decision.

Southeastern Legal Foundation, which filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop, files an amicus brief supporting the request by the Kleins seeking a grant of certiorari in the Oregon case. At stake are fundamental issues of First Amendment religious liberty and the standard by which courts should review future cases in order to protect those liberties.

Click here for U.S. Supreme Court brief

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