The state of Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission put Masterpiece Cake Shop owner Jack Phillips through hell for almost five years before the Supreme Court ruled the commission violated Phillps’ right of free religious expression. In essence, the court ruled that the commission was hostile and biased against Phillips because of his religious beliefs.
So why doesn’t the Colorado government apologize?
The court may have ducked whether a religious baker has a First Amendment right to refuse to craft a custom cake for a same sex wedding. It did not shrink, though, from the question of whether Colorado provided the hapless Christian a fair hearing.
The court concluded that Colorado failed. Colorado, the justices asserted, owed the baker, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, “an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor.” Yet, the justices determined, “When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.”
Had a private enterprise defaulted on a constitutional obligation as abjectly as the Colorado Civil Rights Commission defaulted on Masterpiece Cakeshop, heads would already have rolled. Yet Governor Hickenlooper reacted to the Supreme Court’s devastating judgment on his state’s civil rights enforcement with a mincing statement that displayed not a particle of contrition.
Why not? Government apologizes to citizens all the time. Think of court-ordered apologies to defendants wrongfully accused or convicted. The federal government apologized to Japanese Americans for incarcerating them unlawfully during World War II.
But the state almost puts a small business owner out of business, threatening to ruin him personally and financially, and no apology is forthcoming?
What the court agreed to hear was not whether Mr. Phillips was a bigot but whether Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission was infected with bigotry. Governor Hickenlooper dodged that. On the one hand, he said “we” are “disappointed with the decision.” On the other hand, he claimed, “we take seriously the Court’s admonition that the state must apply its laws and regulations in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”
Then Mr. Hickenlooper allowed as how he nursed “no doubt that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission will meet that standard as they listen, respectfully, to all sides of the matters that come before it and issue decisions that uphold the protections afforded under Colorado law.” No mention of the fact that the Civil Rights Commission had just been found by the Supreme Court to have failed exactly that test.
The court quoted at length the insults commissioners uttered to “disparage” Mr. Phillips’ religion, adding that “the record shows no objection to these comments from other commissioners.” The justices noted that the state court “did not mention those comments, much less express concern with their content.” In the Supreme Court briefs, Colorado failed to disavow the commission’s bigotry.
So a bunch of anti-Christian bigots make a small-town, small-time cake shop owner jump through bureaucratic hoops for several years and everyone just moves on as if nothing happened?
I’m not a big believer in government apologies, although people wrongfully convicted of a crime who spend time in jail should get some kind of mea culpa from those responsible for putting them there. In this case, there was clear injury to an ordinary citizen. If the courts won’t order an apology, the state should be magnanimous enough to give it anyway.