BREAKING: Supreme Court will decide if civil rights laws have broad religious exemptions

A man holds a U.S. and a rainbow flag outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 26 after the court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. Associated Press

The Supreme Court is taking on a new clash between gay rights and religion in a case about a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in Colorado.

The justices said Monday they will consider whether a baker who objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds can refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

The case asks the high court to balance the religious rights of the baker against the couple’s right to equal treatment under the law. Similar disputes have popped up across the United States.

The decision to take on the case reflects renewed energy among the court’s conservative justices, whose ranks have recently been bolstered by the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the high court.

The court will review a Colorado court decision that found baker Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop discriminated against the gay couple under Colorado law.

Phillips told the Supreme Court he has free speech and religious rights under the First Amendment that should protect him. He said he should not be compelled to bake a cake specifically to honor a same-sex marriage.

Colorado’s anti-discrimination law protects people on the basis of their sexual orientation. Charlie Craig and David Mullins filed a complaint against Phillips and his suburban Denver shop after Phillips said he would not create and decorate a cake in honor of their marriage.

Colorado did not permit same-sex couples to marry until 2014. Two years earlier, Craig and Mullin were planning to fly to Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage was legal, and host a reception in Denver upon their return to Colorado. They wanted the cake for the occasion.

“Courts that have considered the arguments pressed by the bakery in this case consistently have come to the same conclusion: the Constitution does not give anyone the right to harm others based on religious beliefs. And laws requiring business people to follow civil rights laws when selling goods or services do not violate free speech rights,” Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel and Director of Law and Policy for at Lambda Legal said in an emailed statement. “These basic principles have been settled for decades and we hope this Supreme Court will reaffirm them without creating anti-LGBT exceptions.

“This case actually involves the exact concerns that Lambda Legal raised during the confirmation hearings for newly-installed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch about his Court of Appeals opinion in the Hobby Lobby case, in which he ignored Supreme Court precedent and catered to the religious beliefs of employers, trumping federal law and not even acknowledging the harmful impacts on workers.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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