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The NAACP-LDF Filed SCOTUS Amicus Brief Supporting Same-Sex Couple in Masterpiece Cakeshop Case


The amicus brief was filed on 10/30/2017 and draws a correlation between the fight for black civil rights and LGBT civil rights but flew under the radar and went unnoticed due to Trump and all the sexual allegation news.

In 2012, a same-sex couple sought to purchase a wedding cake from Masterpiece Cakeshop, owned by Jack Phillips. After Mr. Phillips refused on the grounds that his faith forbade him from providing cakes for same-sex weddings or celebrations, the couple filed a complaint with Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission. The Colorado Court of Appeals (where LDF also filed an amicus brief) upheld the commission’s ruling that he had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. Mr. Phillips appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that he could not be forced to serve the couple against his First Amendment rights as both a Christian and a culinary “artist.”

“Mr. Phillips is arguing that the First Amendment creates a constitutional right for him to discriminate, and it simply does not,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF President and Director-Counsel. “For the Court to consider carving out an ‘artistic expression’ or religious exemption to anti-discrimination laws—without any principle to limit when discrimination can and cannot take place—would give individuals a near blanket license to discriminate. Mr. Phillip’s interpretation, in effect, would render state and federal anti-discrimination laws useless.”

The bakery’s arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop have troubling historical parallels to the way that religion was used to justify discrimination against Black Americans in the Jim Crow-era. In 1968, LDF litigated a landmark case in this area—Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises—which is factually and legally similar to Masterpiece Cakeshop:  Piggie Park involved the owner of a barbeque chain, Maurice Bessinger, who refused to serve three African-American customers at one of his restaurants in South Carolina. Mr. Bessinger alleged that his religious beliefs allowed him to circumvent Title II of the Civil Rights Act—which bars discrimination in public accommodations such as stores, hotels, and theaters—contending that serving Black customers would “contravene the will of God.” In Piggie Park, the Supreme Court unanimously held that Mr. Bessinger violated Title II—similar to Colorado’s anti-discrimination law—because an individual’s religious beliefs do not excuse discrimination.

 “Piggie Park is an important reminder that we have been here before and it is doctrinally central to the resolution of the constitutional issues at stake,” said John Paul Schnapper-Casteras, Special Counsel for Appellate and Supreme Court Advocacy at LDF. “Piggie Park is also a remarkable story of progress: the 1968 ruling did not induce a major backlash or impede religious institutions or culinary artistry.  Rather, people for the most part embraced the wisdom of this Court’s decision — and Piggie Park itself continues to operate a vibrant chain of stores where the current owner, Mr. Bessinger’s son, now speaks openly about rising above his father’s legacy on race.”

In September, the Trump Administration reversed its position on Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. In its latest brief in support of the bakery, the U.S. Solicitor General argues that certain businesses can refuse to accommodate LGBTQ customers under the First Amendment. The Administration’s involvement in this case could carve wide new exceptions into anti-discrimination laws and seriously hobble their enforcement.

“No matter how sincere or well-intentioned, we must see the bakery’s arguments for what they are,” said Coty Montag, Deputy Director of Litigation at LDF. “The bottom line is that religion cannot outweigh a person’s right to be free from discrimination. As laws and policies across the country are increasingly prohibitive of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, the Court should refuse to make an exception in contravention of them. We ask the Court to preserve the critical protections of the public accommodations laws, which shield us all.”


The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF, the Inc. Fund, or LDF) is a leading United States civil rights organization and law firm based in New York City.

The organization can trace its origins to the legal department of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that was created by Charles Hamilton Houston in the 1930s. However, in 1940, Thurgood Marshall established LDF as a separate legal entity and, in 1957, the organization became totally independent of the NAACP.

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