When two legal rights collide, how does the court pick a side? The United States Supreme Court’s ruling on June 4, 2018, in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, made it clear that it is not an easy decision. Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses whether a baker can rightfully turn down a gay couple’s request to design their wedding cake if the baker’s religion does not accept gay marriage.
Freedom of speech and religion are two important civil liberties protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Freedom of speech extends to both traditional verbal speech, and expressive conduct also known as symbolic speech. Burning a flag and wearing a t-shirt opposing a political leader are two examples of symbolic speech.
Conduct remains at the heart of symbolic speech claims. Thoughts, ideas, and opinions are powerful and courts have decided to protect them in certain scenarios. However, the conduct’s offensiveness or irrationality can never be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not the conduct deserves First Amendment protection.