WASHINGTON — US Jewish groups decried the US Supreme Court on Monday, after it ruled in favor of a Colorado baker’s right to refuse to build a wedding cake for a gay couple on the grounds that he objected to their union under his religious beliefs.
While the court’s 7-2 ruling on Masterpiece Bakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, applied only to this individual case, several Jewish organizations still expressed dismay over the decision as a step backwards in the struggle for civil rights.
“Though the ruling does not set a precedent to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is a missed opportunity to affirmatively protect the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, who heads of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
In the ruling, the justices cited anti-religious bias on the part of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, saying it was unfairly dismissive of baker Jack Phillips’ religious beliefs.
But the court stayed out of the thornier issue of whether people can avoid providing services to same-sex weddings because of religious beliefs
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said his group was “disappointed” by the ruling, but expressed hope in the fact that the verdict did not weigh in on the large issue at stake: whether a business can refuse service to gay and lesbian individuals.
“The Supreme Court decision does not give businesses the constitutional right to discriminate, and it does not change existing state anti-discrimination protections,” he said in a statement.
Yet the potential of the ruling to create ambiguities, or lead more businesses to think they can refuse service to LGBT persons, is precisely what disturbed the National Council of Jewish Women.
“Where the Supreme Court should have struck a clear and forthright blow upholding the nation’s civil rights protections against discrimination based on gender identity, the court instead muddied the waters by issuing a ruling that leaves the court’s ultimate intentions unclear,” said the group’s CEO Nancy Kaufman.
At least one major Jewish organization “welcomed” the Supreme Court’s decision.
The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center praised the high court for affirming what it sees as religious protections from a hostile state government.
“Too many pundits and politicians have lately engaged in rhetoric that seeks to paint religious liberty in a negative light, especially as they seek to advance policies to which some have sincere dissent,” said Nathan Diament, the OU’s executive director for public policy.
“Today, the United States Supreme Court sent a clear message: that the demonization of religious beliefs – especially in policymaking – is constitutionally unacceptable,” he said.