When the Supreme Court announced on Monday its ruling in favor of Jack Phillips, the reactions were quick to come pouring in. Many came from supporters of Phillips, and many from his opponents. The decision has some people satisfied and others disappointed, and it has also left many wondering; what next?
The majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy made a few points very clear:
- Any enforcement of a state's anti-discrimination laws must be fair and viewpoint neutral.
- Government hostility towards any one group - including people of religion - is inappropriate, and will not be condoned or permitted by a higher court.
The Supreme Court acknowledged Phillips' right to free exercise of his beliefs in all aspects of his life. At the same time, it denounced a targeted investigation by a state entity against one of its own citizens, and guaranteed that citizen the right to fair treatment. Then it stopped short. Far too short.
In upholding Phillips' right to fair treatment, the court fails to address whether people of religion have the right to live out their beliefs in the way they conduct business - the very thing that was called to its attention by Phillips' appeal in the first place.
The narrow ruling deals only with case-specific facts, and fails to delve into the underlying civil rights issue. As of now, the future remains undecided as the can is kicked farther down the road. The question still remains; When are free exercise rights unconstitutionally limited by an otherwise generally applicable non-discrimination law?
Phillips' case is part of a common thread currently crisscrossing the nation.
- A Christian florist in Washington state
- Two wedding cinematographers in Minnesota
- A graphic designer in Denver
In these cases and others, both sides have a compelling argument. No one should be discriminated against, and no one should be denied the right to live out their faith as they conduct business. On the surface, both sides appear to be right. Deep down, both sides appear to be wrong. What is to be done is a question that hangs over their heads like a storm hangs over Pikes Peak, waiting. It is a question that the Supreme Court - led by Justice Kennedy - has failed to address and has left hanging until the next business owner is handed death threats or the next same-sex couple suffers "shame, embarrassment, and humiliation."
For now, the fates of all who are involved are in the hands of future litigation, and even the fate of Phillips is not known for sure. For them, the road is still uncertain, and their enterprises still vulnerable. Some are faced with an impossible choice, and others face the very real fear of hateful discrimination.
For The Editorial Board