Supreme Court rules for pregnancy centers, cake maker
April 18, 2019
WASHINGTON – In a ruling hailed as a victory for free speech rights of pro-life organizations, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 June 26 that a California law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post where low-cost abortion services are available violates the U.S. Constitution.
And in a case putting anti-discrimination laws up against freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression, the high court June 4 sided with a Colorado baker who declined to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
In separate statements, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) praised both decisions. The USCCB also in each case filed friend-of-the-court briefs with other faith-based groups.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the crisis pregnancy center ruling “an important victory for the free speech rights of pro-life organizations.”
“The Supreme Court today has affirmed that the First Amendment protects the right of all organizations to choose for themselves not only what to say, but what not to say,” he said.
“This includes allowing pro-life pregnancy care centers to continue providing life-affirming support to both mother and child without being forced by governments to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of the center’s pro-life convictions,” he said.
In the bakery case, the chairmen of three USCCB committees said the decision “confirms that people of faith should not suffer discrimination on account of their deeply held religious beliefs, but instead should be respected by government officials.”
“In a pluralist society like ours, true tolerance allows people with different viewpoints to be free to live out their beliefs, even if those beliefs are unpopular with the government,” said the statement issued by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, chairman of the committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
In the California case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, the court found that the state law changed the content of the clinic’s speech “by compelling petitioners to speak a particular message,” and the requirement went further than being a mere “regulation of professional conduct that incidentally burdens speech.”
The state law in question was the Reproductive FACT Act, which said pregnancy centers must post notices in their facilities about where low-cost abortion services are available and must disclose if they have medical personnel on staff.
Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Kennedy filed a concurring opinion which Roberts, Alito and Gorsuch joined. Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
In the Colorado case, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the U.S. Constitution’s protection of religious freedom in its ruling against the baker, who declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Kennedy wrote the opinion for Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission; Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented. The case stems from an incident in 2012 when Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, to make a cake for their wedding reception. Phillips refused, saying he could help the men by selling them cookies and brownies, birthday cakes and other services, but he didn’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.
Writing for the court, Kennedy noted a delicate balance at stake, saying, “Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason, the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. The exercise of their freedom on terms equal to others must be given great weight and respect by the courts. At the same time, the religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.”
Kennedy said the Masterpiece Cakeshop case had a limited scope and the issue “must await further elaboration.” The opinion honed in on the argument of religious neutrality, saying the baker’s refusal was based on “sincere religious beliefs and convictions” and when the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered the case, the opinion said, “it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.”
Across the country, appeals in similar cases are pending, including a case involving a florist who declined a customers’ request to provide custom floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding. On June 26, the Supreme Court sent the florist’s case back to a lower court for review in light of the high court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop.