The Catholic University of America


Welcome to the Religion Section of our webpage. This front page will reflect our most current information on either constitutional law or statutory law on religion affecting educational institutions. 

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission et. al., Case No. 16-111 (U.S. Supreme Ct. June 4, 2018)


In a 7-2 decision on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown hostility to the religious views of the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. The case arose when Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex marriage celebration because of the owner’s religious objections to gay marriage. Masterpiece Cakeshop was willing to create cakes for the couple for events other than a same-sex marriage.

Masterpiece argued that creation of a custom wedding cake was expressive, and constitutionally protected as a free exercise of religion. The Supreme Court (in a series of concurring opinions) held that the Civil Rights Commission ruling was inconsistent with the First Amendment guarantee that laws be applied in a neutral manner toward religion.

The government “cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and cannot act in a manner that passes judgement upon or presupposed the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices.”

In this case, the Court found that the Commission did not act with the required neutrality based upon statements made by the commissioners contemporaneously with their decision that passed judgement on the illegitimacy of Masterpiece’s beliefs, and the Commission’s disparate treatment in upholding the policies of bakers in subsequent cases who refused to make cakes that made derogatory statements towards same-sex marriage. Accordingly, the Court found that the Commission adjudicated Masterpiece’s claim from a negative normative judgment of its beliefs, rather than with neutrality required by the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.

The Courts decision was a narrow holding based on the particular facts of this case. The Court explicitly left open the possibility of different outcomes for future cases involving religious objections to providing goods and services for gay marriages. The majority opinion concluded by stating, “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Principles of Religious Liberty Memorandum issued to all administrative and executive agencies from AG Sessions regarding religious liberty protections in federal law. Issued October 6, 2017. Further Guidance on Implementation on this issue directed to the Justice Department on the same date. 

Interim Final Rule on Religious Exemptions and Accommodations for Coverage of Certain Contraceptive Services under the ACA, to be published in Federal Register on 10/13/17.  
This interim final rule has been issued to provide conscience protections for individuals and entities with sincerely held religious beliefts. 

For write ups on the latest cases and other developments in this area, see the Stradley Ronon Nonprofit and Religious Organizations web page for a series of timely alerts, which are posted halfway down the page.