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Jul 12, 201812:46 PMOpen Mic

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U.S. Supreme Court avoids ruling on whether religious beliefs can justify violations of discrimination laws

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Additionally, the Court was troubled by statements made by commissioners on the record that the Court believed showed hostility toward Phillips’ sincere religious belief. Most concerning to the Court, was a statement by a commissioner that “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust … it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to — to use their religion to hurt others.” The other commissioners never objected to this statement. Therefore, the Court concluded that these statements cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication of Phillips’ case.

The Commission had to weigh the State’s interest in enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination against Phillips’ sincere religious objections consistent with the strict observance of religious neutrality. Phillips was entitled to a decision-maker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection. “[T]hese disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Going forward, presumably government agencies and courts hearing religious objections to discrimination laws will take care to act neutrally toward religion when ruling on such objections. However, Masterpiece Cakeshop does not fundamentally change the legal landscape for agencies and courts determining the merits of any religious objections to discrimination laws. Discrimination laws will continue to be enforced. Employers should continue to monitor this evolving area of the law and consult with legal counsel if their sincere religious beliefs potentially come into conflict with the enforcement of discrimination laws.

Brian Goodman is an associate with a general law practice and is a member of the Boardman & Clark School Law and Labor & Employment practice groups.

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