In America, persons of all faiths have the right to "live out" their faith. The right to do so, commonly referred to as "religious freedom" or "freedom of religion", is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. It says, in relevant part, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". In its simplest application, the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing, mandating, requiring or prohibiting a certain church or religion. It requires the government to be neutral, in effect, when it comes to religion. Some people refer to this as the separation of church and state.
Over the course of American history, the precise contours of the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects have been the subject of intense public attention, scrutiny, debate and litigation. Numerous US Supreme Court cases have addressed what governments, private businesses and individuals can and cannot do, say and require when it comes to religion. Of late, as secular forces have continued to chip away at what we as Christians believe to be our nation's Judeo-Christian roots, some Christians feel pressured to compromise their beliefs or retreat from civil and political life as the price for following their faith. Many have asked "I'm free to believe, but am I free to act?" Conversely, "Am I free not to act if by doing so I would compromise my faith?" "Must or should I keep my faith out of public view?" And, "May my child or grandchild express his or her own faith in school?" These and other questions trouble many Christians as they seek to honor God, do right and obey the law.
These questions are natural because sometimes the law and one's faith seem to be at odds. Take, for example, the case of Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. He declined to make a cake for the wedding celebration of two gay men in 2012. He told the couple that he would make a birthday cake, but could not make a cake that would promote same-sex marriage due to his religious beliefs. The couple objected and together with the ACLU of Colorado filed a complaint against Phillips with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. An Administrative Law Judge ruled against Phillips in December 2013, finding he had violated the Colorado law which prohibits businesses from denying service due to a person's sexual orientation. The Civil Rights Commission agreed in May 2014 and Phillips was ordered to change his company policies. In August 2015, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against Phillips on his appeal and in April 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear Phillips' appeal. In a very important decision, the US Supreme Court decided in June 2017 to hear Phillips' final appeal in its next term, which begins in the fall of 2017. The Supreme Court agrees to hear only a very small fraction of the cases it is asked to consider, so there is good reason to think the case will further define, in a meaningful way, the contours of religious freedom under the First Amendment. In addition to the Masterpiece case, the Supreme Court will hear cases next term on President Trump's travel ban, constitutional limits on partisan gerrymandering, cellphone privacy, human rights violations by corporations and the ability of employees to band together to address workplace issues, so it will be a busy term, with religious freedom front and center.
Thanks to the efforts of brave men and women like Jack Phillips, who have chosen to follow their conscience regardless of the consequences, religious freedom is increasingly being recognized as more than allowing diverse religions to co-exist, i.e. as more than the opportunity to attend a church, synagogue or mosque of one's choosing. It is being recognized as the ability to act on the convictions of one's faith and in a way consistent with one's moral beliefs. Many recent cases, with many more still now pending, address this issue in a variety of ways, and in a variety of contexts, ranging from K-12 public schools, university campuses, churches, businesses, the military and the public square. A partial list of these cases, with links to descriptions, articles and in some instances the filed pleadings themselves, is below. We intend to update this list periodically so check back in the future.
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
Barber v. Bryant/Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant--June 22, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer--June 26, 2017
Amy Lynn Photography Studio v. City of Madison--March 7, 2017
Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey--May 25, 2017
303 Creative v. Elenis--September 20, 2016
303 Creative v. Elenis--September 20, 2016
Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix--March 9, 2017
State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers/Ingersoll v. Arlene's Flowers--February 16, 2017
Lexington – Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals--June 12, 2017
Elane Photography v. Willock--April 7, 2014
Elane Photography v. Willock