Gay rights groups in Texas are cheering a move by the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a religious freedom case that involves one of the hottest debates that has spiraled out of the gay marriage decision.
Justices will hear a challenge from a Colorado baker who doesn’t want to decorate gay wedding cakes. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, feels his religious freedom is being violated by the state's non-discrimination ordinance.
Chuck Smith, who heads Equality Texas, says there have been several unsuccessful attempts to expand the Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which allows individuals to challenge laws that “substantially” burden their practice of religion. He wants the high court to step in and settle the debate over what is acceptable
"Clarify if there is a difference between religious refusals and religious accommodations," he says.
The Texas RFRA, which was passed in 1999, was mostly designed to protection against discrimination over things like religious clothing. Smith says there are a growing number of cases where people are trying to broaden it to businesses that want to refuse service to same sex couples. He says the courts have continually ruled that type of discrimination is unconstitutional.
"Every time this case has been reviewed in the lower courts, including the Colorado Supreme Court, they have determined that the bakery must serve same sex couples and treat them the same way they treat everybody else."
Groups that are pushing the Texas legislature to expand religious freedom laws are pleased, as well, that the high court will deliver some clarity.
“The government should not punish its citizens for following their consciences and living their lives in accordance with their deepest convictions. We pray that the Supreme Court will rule soon that Masterpiece Cakeshop was exercising its Constitutionally protected right to free speech and artistic expression so law-abiding entrepreneurs can get back to following their passions without fear of excessive penalties or even jail time by the government for standing by their principles. We either all have the freedom to peacefully live and act according to our conscience — or none of us do, ” said Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values.
The Supreme Court has recently sided with religious believers. In 2014, in the so-called Hobby Lobby case, the justices ruled that companies cannot be forced to offer insurance coverage that includes birth control.