Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This is a case that looks like it’s about a cake, but scratch below the icing and you’ll find what it’s really about is taking the first step to dismantling our nation’s nondiscrimination laws. And that’s something worth worrying about.
The case involves a Colorado bakery that refused to serve a gay couple, in violation of Colorado’s nondiscrimination law. The bakery claims the owner’s religious beliefs should make it exempt from the state’s nondiscrimination law. A win for the bakery could not only gut state nondiscrimination laws but also erode the federal Civil Rights Act — and turn back the clock to a time when businesses could tell people, “We don’t serve your kind here.”
In short, the stakes of this case couldn’t be higher — not just for LGBT people but for people of color, members of minority faiths, people with disabilities, and women. That’s why the Open to All coalition was created. More than 140 civil rights, racial justice, LGBT, labor, and allied organizations have banded together to sound the alarm about the far-reaching, dangerous risks of this case.
Today is the first day of Open to All Week, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of a landmark case, Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises. This case is an important part of our nation’s civil rights history and a reminder that the court has heard these arguments before — and soundly rejected them. Piggie Park, a small barbeque chain that is still in business today, once refused to serve African-American customers. The owner, a segregationist, claimed that the Civil Rights Act violated his religious freedom. The Supreme Court disagreed in a landmark decision issued March 18, 1968. Now we’re hearing these arguments again — but this time used against LGBT people.
A loss in Masterpiece threatens this historic ruling and could take us back to a shameful era in our nation’s history, an era when businesses could claim a right to discriminate as they see fit. Businesses and their owners have a right to their religious beliefs — but that freedom shouldn’t give businesses a license to discriminate.
Businesses can decide what to sell — and no bakery is required to sell wedding cakes. But what businesses can’t do, once they decide to sell something, is to refuse to sell that product to certain kinds of people in violation of nondiscrimination laws. The Constitution does not protect the right of a bakery to post a sign that says, “Wedding Cakes for Heterosexuals Only.”
You can make a difference today. Visit Open to All to learn more, share the powerful videos, talk to your friends, write to your newspaper. Join the chorus of voices speaking out against these efforts to secure a Constitutional right to discriminate. Sign the American Civil Liberties Union’s People’s Petition to urge the court to ensure that businesses serve the public on the same terms. And learn more about the Piggie Park decision, its impact on our nation’s civil rights history, and how creating a constitutional license to discriminate in Masterpiece could undermine the core principle that when a business opens its doors to the public, it should be open to all.
The OPEN TO ALL campaign is supported by more than 100 national and state organizations that advocate for LGBT people, racial justice, civil rights, health and health care, inclusive faith, and more. INEKE MUSHOVIC is executive director of one of the organizations, the Movement Advancement Project.