Two Court Cases Raise the Question of Religious Rights vs. LGBTQ Rights

In the wake of multiple firings of LGBTQ people from Catholic institutions, the chair of Fordham University’s theology department has reported another disheartening political reality for the queer community in the form of two state court rulings.

Writing for Religious Dispatches, Patrick Hornbeck cited two cases in which rulings have favored religious exemptions to laws designed to protect the civil rights of LGBTQ people. The first case involved a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in Department of Fair Employment and Housing vs. Cathy’s Creations, Inc. Hornbeck provided the details:

“Two women asked Cathy Miller’s bakery in Bakersfield, California, to create a custom cake for their wedding reception. She declined, citing her Christian faith and opposition to same-sex marriage. […] Without waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the broader issues at stake, California Superior Court Judge (and Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee) David R. Lampe ruled emphatically in favor of the baker. ‘The State cannot succeed on the facts presented as a matter of law,’ he wrote. ‘The right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment outweighs the State’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace.’”

Lampe ruled in favor of the baker. He noted that “[a] wedding cake is not just a cake in a Free Speech analysis,” and that “[t]he right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment outweighs the State’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace.”.

Hornbeck also reported on a North Carolina case that followed soon after the California one:

“Not long after Judge Lampe exempted Miller from the requirements of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, a substantial monetary settlement was made public in a North Carolina case. Gayle Myrick served as a state magistrate for a little more than three years, but when same-sex marriage was approved in North Carolina in 2014, she sought a religious exemption from the requirement that she perform same-sex marriages as part of her duties. Denied the concession that she proposed—that her schedule be adjusted so that she would not be on duty during the hours when marriages can be performed—Myrick resigned, in the process losing retirement benefits that were soon to be vested.

She filed a complaint with the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), charging her supervisors with discrimination on the basis of religion. In March of last year, EEOC administrative law judge Michael J. Devine ruled in Myrick’s favor. In a case entitled Myrick v. Warren, he found that Myrick’s supervisors had not fulfilled their constitutional obligation, under the Free Exercise Clause, ‘to at least explore the options and provide an accommodation unless granting the accommodation would cause an undue burden.’ Devine ordered that the North Carolina courts provide Myrick with back pay, compensate her for her attorney’s fees, and determine whether a position exists to which she might be reinstated. As we recently learned, the parties ended up settling for nearly $225,000 in compensation and $115,000 in attorney’s fees.”

As Hornbeck pointed out, religious organizations and institutions are protected in these cases at the expense of LGBTQ employees and citizens:

“Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges recognized that ‘religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction’ their beliefs about same-sex marriage, and that ‘[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection.’”

Of course, the problem remains: protection at what cost? Religious freedom is a right held by every United States citizen, and it is certainly a good in itself that aims to protect against discrimination by any one religious practice. However, as demonstrated in these cases, religious freedom continues to be used as a means to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. That which is intended as a good has led to harmful consequences.

Lizzie Sextro, New Ways Ministry, March 1, 2018

5 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Strange that “religious beliefs” seem to get in the way of the rights of just those pesky LGBT people who want access to services offered to the general public. Sure looks to me like blatant discrimination from people who don’t want to serve LGBT people. Those “religious beliefs” seem to be a pretty convenient excuse for refusing services.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    This situation has arisen before, in a somewhat related context. Suppose a “Reasonably Catholic” baker was approached by some members of a Satanic Temple, and asked to bake a cake which displayed a debauched Satanic ritual. Do you think the Catholic baker would have an ethical right to decline this request to create a Satanic ritual depiction on top of the cake? My personal answer is “Yes” — especially if there were some other non-religiously-aligned baker or bakery which would be happy to accept the gig. Comments? Discussion? What say, folks?

    • John Hilgeman
      John Hilgeman says:

      Would the Catholic baker decorate a cake with images of “debauched” behaviors on a cake for another group? (Likely not.) If not, they would not be required to do so for a Satanic Temple. But if they would bake and sell cakes for other religious rituals, they should bake one for a Satanic Temple ritual, sans “debauched” imagery.

      At any rate, refusing to bake a cake for a wedding for a lesbian or gay couple, is akin to refusing to serve a gay or lesbian couple in a public restaurant, or refusing to book an anniversary celebration for a lesbian or gay couple in a venue open to the public. The message is the same as “no blacks allowed,” or “no Jews allowed,” or “no Irish or Catholics allowed.” If a business is licensed to serve the public, they should serve all the public.

  3. Deacon Thomas Smith
    Deacon Thomas Smith says:

    Non-dualistically speaking, cannot the “common good” of society benefit from viewing these discrimination vs. religious freedom cases as intrinsically “grey areas”? For the time being (as individual consciences and business policies gradually evolve) perhaps we can seek gay-friendly bakeries when planning same-gender weddings. This strategy benefits those with progressive mentalities whose religious beliefs are not threatened by differing definitions of marriage, while financially penalizing those stuck in fear. Patience. Prudence. Not the force of flawed human dualistic thinking.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Cathy’s Creations

    You are correct in being concerned about this ruling in the preliminary stages of this case. On the other hand, this order is only about denying the motion for a preliminary injunction against Cathy’s Creations. We are a long way from hearing the case on its merits.

    I suppose these cases of discrimination have to run their course. However, they all are going to depend on the ruling in Masterpice Cakeshop for final adjudication?

    Most of the speculation as to how SCOTUS will order in Masterpice has centered on two possibilities.

    1. SCOTUS may declare parts of the Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-303(1) unconstitutional.
    2. SCOTUS may carve out a narrowly tailored exemption to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-303(1) e.g. Hobby Lobby.
    A lessor third option has also been suggested.
    3. SCOTUS may remand the entire case back to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission with instructions for reconsideration de novo.


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