When will Colorado apologize to the owner of Masterpiece Cake?
Will the state of Colorado apologize to Masterpiece Cake owner Jack Phillips for putting him through years of bureaucratic hell? The Colorado government has an obligation in this case to try and make right a tremendous wrong they visited upon one of their citizens. This is especially true given the narrow nature of the Supreme Court's ruling last week.
The court may have ducked whether a religious baker has a First Amendment right to refuse to craft a custom cake for a same sex wedding. It did not shrink, though, from the question of whether Colorado provided the hapless Christian a fair hearing.
The court concluded that Colorado failed. Colorado, the justices asserted, owed the baker, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, “an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor.” Yet, the justices determined, “When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.”
Had a private enterprise defaulted on a constitutional obligation as abjectly as the Colorado Civil Rights Commission defaulted on Masterpiece Cakeshop, heads would already have rolled. Yet Governor Hickenlooper reacted to the Supreme Court’s devastating judgment on his state’s civil rights enforcement with a mincing statement that displayed not a particle of contrition.
“It’s against Colorado law to deny goods and services to any individual because of sexual orientation,” the governor warned, though no one, leastwise Mr. Phillips, said it wasn’t. The governor went on to note that “nothing” in the Supreme Court’s “narrow opinion” curbs Colorado’s law. Nor, he added, “prevents the state from protecting LGBTQ persons from discrimination.”
The state's hostility to people of faith was obvious to anyone who followed the case. It never acknowledged that Mr. Phillips gladly catered to all people of all colors and sexual orientations. Only when a situation arose where he was forced to decide between a flawed statute and his religious beliefs did he get into trouble.
Further, the state's actions were unduly punitive in many people's opinion, and the Supreme Court believed that the state's enforcement of the law was, itself, bigoted:
What the court agreed to hear was not whether Mr. Phillips was a bigot but whether Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission was infected with bigotry. Governor Hickenlooper dodged that. On the one hand, he said “we” are “disappointed with the decision.” On the other hand, he claimed, “we take seriously the Court’s admonition that the state must apply its laws and regulations in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”
Then Mr. Hickenlooper allowed as how he nursed “no doubt that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission will meet that standard as they listen, respectfully, to all sides of the matters that come before it and issue decisions that uphold the protections afforded under Colorado law.” No mention of the fact that the Civil Rights Commission had just been found by the Supreme Court to have failed exactly that test.
Government apologizes to citizens all the time. Police and prosecutors apologize for wrongful convictions or mistreatment. The federal government has apologized to native Americans and Japanese. The precedent is not unheard of.
In this case, the Court ruled that the government of Colorado's enforcement arm for civil rights was bigoted, unfair, and arbitrary. If that doesn't warrant an apology, what does?