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Can businesses discriminate citing “religious freedom”?

Last week, the United States Supreme Court heard argument concerning whether a business had a constitutional right to discriminate against a gay couple by asserting it violated their “religious freedom.” In that matter, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a gay couple sought to purchase a wedding cake from a Colorado baker. However, the baker refused to create a cake for the couple, asserting that the First Amendment’s protections for free speech and for the free exercise of religion — provide an out against Colorado’s public accommodations law, which requires businesses to serve customers equally regardless of sex, race, national origin or sexual orientation. Numerous other states and municipalities have laws protecting against discrimination by business, similar to the protections provided by Federal anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Many of the arguments centered around whether baking a cake is an art form that should be protected as speech, or whether a retail baker is governed by laws of commerce. It is unclear how the Supreme Court will side. However, religious liberty should not translate into a right to discriminate. Previous suits asserting “religious freedom” across the country by other wedding service providers such as photographers, florists and calligraphers have not been successful.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the cake shop’s religion argument, it could have wide-reaching consequences, and give business owners a way out of following anti-discrimination laws, significantly turning back the progress made over the last several decades.

As Georgia anti-discrimination lawyers, we will be watching this case closely and reporting on any developments.

For more information or if you have been subjected to any form of discrimination, please contact our dedicated Atlanta employment lawyers for an immediate consultation.

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