USCCB Chairmen Applaud Supreme Court’s Respect for Religious Liberty in Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision
WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case involves a Christian baker named Jack Phillips who declined in 2012 to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. State officials sought to compel Phillips to create such cakes under Colorado’s public accommodations law. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Phillips under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., of Philadelphia, 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 of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued the following joint statement:
“Today’s 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. This extends to creative professionals, such as Jack Phillips, who seek to serve the Lord in every aspect of their daily lives. In a pluralistic 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.”
The USCCB filed an amicus curiae brief supporting Masterpiece Cakeshop, which can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/16-111-tsac-USCCB.pdf.
The USCCB joined a number of other religious organizations in filing an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court for the case Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.
The case involves a “transgender boy” (biological girl), identified as “G.G.,” who seeks to use the boys’ restroom at her public high school. The student sued under Title IX (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex) and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The district court dismissed the case, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, ruled in favor of the student. The Gloucester County School Board sought review before the U.S. Supreme Court and received a temporary stay from the high Court that prohibits the student from using the boys’ restroom while the case is on review. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Other federal lawsuits of the same kind (student vs. school board) are on hold until this case is settled.
The religious organizations on the brief note, “The religious liberty we cherish is threatened by the Fourth Circuit’s decision adopting the Department of Education’s expansion of Title IX beyond any plausible interpretation.” For, “Major religious traditions—including those represented by amici—share the belief that a person’s identity as male or female is created by God and immutable.”
Bishop Perry, a member of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage wrote on the main USCCB blog about the connection between marriage and religious freedom.
At the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the constitutionality of marriage laws, one of the justices said: “I thought that was the whole purpose of marriage. It bestows dignity on both man and woman in a traditional marriage… It’s dignity-bestowing, and these parties say they want to have that same ennoblement.”
It is important to define terms like dignity. The Oxford English Dictionary defines dignity this way: “The state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God” (CCC 1700). Every human person has intrinsic dignity; it is not bestowed by any government or institution.
The civil recognition of marriage has traditionally acknowledged the commitment of one man and one woman to one another in the interests of strengthening that bond and establishing the parentage of children. It was not instituted in order to confer dignity on the man or woman. Other relationships that are important to people’s lives, such as friendships, do not seek or require governmental intervention. The state has a compelling interest and responsibility to protect marriage—it does not have such a compelling interest or responsibility with other relationships.
If the law treats marriage as dignity-bestowing to persons, then there can be no rational limit to who can ask the state for a marriage license because every person or even every friendship deserves dignity. Four single women who are friends and share a house should be able to marry, since they are entitled to the same dignity as everyone else, for example. To not allow these four to marry is not a denial of their dignity or reducing them to “second-class” citizens. Rather it acknowledges that their relationships, no matter how personally fulfilling, are not of compelling interest to the state such that the state needs to formally recognize and support them.
In the marriage debate, let us not imagine that marriage is any more important than it is. It is important enough to fight for, but it is certainly not where human dignity comes from.