Supreme Court Issues Blow to Civil Rights & Religious Pluralism

June 30, 2023

Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis that rolls back the civil rights protections that have shielded religious minorities and other groups from discrimination in the public marketplace for over fifty years. In an opinion authored by Justice Gorsuch, the Court ruled that a web design business has a Free Speech right to refuse to sell wedding website services to same-sex couples. The ruling will have a profound impact on antidiscrimination law and our ability to ensure a safe and open public marketplace.

Last August, The Law, Rights, and Religion Project (LRRP) submitted an amicus brief to the Court on behalf of thirty religious and civil rights organizations, including Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Hindu, secular, and interfaith groups. The brief, co-authored with Muslim Advocates and the law firm Hogan Lovells, explored the crucial role that civil rights laws have played in protecting religious minorities from persecution and preventing segregation—including religious segregation—in public accommodations. The brief explained that “public accommodation laws support true religious freedom by enabling adherents of all religions to live a full social and economic life.”

Said LRRP Director Liz Reiner Platt of the opinion: “The Court’s ruling in 303 Creative should not be seen as a win for religious freedom. Rather, the decision will enable religious segregation and discrimination. Until the passage of civil right laws, the Jewish Vacation Guide was needed to protect families like mine from refusals of service. Today, the Supreme Court sends us back to a time when disfavored groups can find themselves shut out of the public marketplace. This decision deals a severe blow to a thriving, egalitarian, religiously pluralistic society.” 

“Read together with yesterday’s affirmative action case, we see the Supreme Court bending over backwards to protect the rights of parties who object to racial and sexual equality” noted Professor Katherine Franke, Faculty Director of LRRP. “At the same time, manifest forms of inequality experienced by people of color, LGBTQ people, and other minorities remains invisible to the Court’s conservative supermajority.”

For additional comments, contact the Law, Rights, and Religion Project at [email protected].