Religious freedom advocates were joyous on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips of Colorado -- the baker who declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding because doing so would have conflicted with his religious beliefs.
The highest court in the land sided with Phillips because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission subjected him to what could be argued was anti-religious bigotry. But despite the historic nature of the ruling, broadcast network news outlets ABC and NBC were more relieved that the ruling had a “limited” scope and seemingly only applied to this one case.
One of the most appalling parts of the coverage was the networks' obfuscation of the bigoted assertions the Colorado Civil Rights Commission made against Phillips. As Justice correspondent Jan Crawford explained on CBS Evening News, the commission, “compared Phillips’ religious objections to same-sex marriage to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust…”
On NBC Nightly News, Justice correspondent Pete Williams made no mention of these heinous attacks by the Colorado commission. “Colorado said Phillips violated a state law that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But today, by a 7-2 vote the Supreme Court said Phillips wins because Colorado didn't take his religious claims seriously enough,” he downplayed.
While ABC’s sensationalist anchor, David Muir noted in his lead-in that “[t]he Supreme Court finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that supported the gay couple acted with religious hostility,” he offered no actual explanation of what the commission had said.
“The Colorado Civil Rights Commission found that Phillips had violated state laws against discrimination. But the Supreme Court took issue with commissioners describing Phillips' beliefs as ‘irrational’ and ‘offensive,’” was all ABC Chief Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas managed to say about it.
Thomas did note “Justice Anthony Kennedy describing the commission as having ‘a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs’ of Phillips.” But because he did not share the commission’s full comments, the complete context was lost. This was a classic ABC technique of telling only half of the story.
But Thomas did manage to find the ability to promote “gay rights activists taking comfort in a limited decision.” “The nation's views on same-sex marriage evolving. The most recent ABC News poll found that 81 percent of Americans said companies should not be allowed to refuse service to gays and lesbians,” he added after playing a clip of his conversation with a gay rights activist at the courthouse.
For NBC, Williams spoke with a bitter member of the liberal ACLU, who suggested businesses were hoping for the ruling to give them an excuse to discriminate against people. “They were absolutely looking for a ruling that said that businesses like this bakery have a right to discriminate and they didn't get that from this court. Not even close,” said James Esseks.
CBS’s Jan Crawford appeared to do the most to not paint Phillips as an evil villain looking to bash gay people: “Phillips told us, when the court was considering the case, he would serve same-sex couples other baked goods in his shop, but he would not create a wedding cake” because it went against the “biblical teaching on marriage.” The other networks focused on him “refusing” to make the cake, brushed over his reasoning, and did not mention that he still intended to serve gay customers.
The transcripts are below, click "expand" to read:
World News Tonight
June 4, 2018
6:36:41 PM Eastern [2 minutes 17 seconds]
DAVID MUIR: A high-profile ruling today from the Supreme Court. The case pitting a cake maker in Colorado against a gay couple who wanted to buy a wedding cake from him. The high court siding today with that baker, who refused to make that cake, citing his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that supported the gay couple acted with religious hostility. ABC's Chief Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas at the court tonight where there are still many unanswered questions.
[Cuts to video]
LGBT PROTESTERS: It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
PIERRE THOMAS: Protests on the steps of the Supreme Court today, after a ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who turned away a gay couple. Jack Phillips had refused to design a cake for a same-sex wedding, arguing it would violate his religious beliefs as a Christian.
JACK PHILLIPS: It's not just a cake. This is a religious ceremony that goes in direct conflict with my faith.
THOMAS: Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins said they left Phillips’ Masterpiece Cake Shop in 2012 devastated.
DAVID MULLINS: I was shocked. I mean, neither one of us had ever been treated this way before at a business.
THOMAS: The Colorado Civil Rights Commission found that Phillips had violated state laws against discrimination. But the Supreme Court took issue with commissioners describing Phillips' beliefs as "irrational" and "offensive." In a 7-2 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy describing the commission as having “a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs" of Phillips. Today, gay rights activists taking comfort in a limited decision.
SARAH WARBELOW (Human Rights Campaign): It was a very narrow decision that only applies to the unique facts of this particular case. In no way did the Supreme Court undermine our nation's civil rights laws.
THOMAS: The nation's views on same-sex marriage evolving. The most recent ABC News poll found that 81 percent of Americans said companies should not be allowed to refuse service to gays and lesbians.
[Cuts back to live]
MUIR: So, let's get to Pierre Thomas, he’s live at the Supreme Court tonight. And Pierre, many legal scholars now saying the court didn't fully resolve the fundamental question here of whether businesses can actually refuse service to same-sex couples, based on religious objections.
THOMAS: That's right, David. The issue is left unresolved. And there's a case involved a florist refusing service to a same-sex couple that the Supreme Court could decide to take up as soon as next fall. David?
MUIR: Pierre Thomas live at the Supreme Court tonight. Pierre, thank you.
NBC Nightly News
June 4, 2018
7:06:30 PM Eastern [2 minutes 11 seconds]
LESTER HOLT: The U.S. Supreme Court today in one of the most closely watched cases of the term sided with a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple. The ruling was a narrow one, a victory for the baker without the justices settling some of the larger questions in the case. Our Justice correspondent Pete Williams explains.
[Cuts to video]
PETE WILLIAMS: It's a clear win for Jack Phillips of Denver, who said baking a cake for a same-sex couple would violate his Christian beliefs, forcing him to express a view through the artistry of his cakes that he opposes.
JACK PHILLIPS: My life is tied to my religious beliefs. This is an extension of it.
WILLIAMS: When he turned down David Mullins and Charlie Craig who wanted a cake for their wedding celebration, they sued.
DAVID MULLINS: We hoped that people now know that our case wasn't some isolated incident that this happens to people in every kind of business every day.
WILLIAMS: Colorado said Phillips violated a state law that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But today, by a 7-2 vote the Supreme Court said Phillips wins because Colorado didn't take his religious claims seriously enough.
MICHAEL FARRIS (Alliance Defending Freedom CEO): The court said that religious freedom is an important value that needs to be weighed in deciding these cases. It doesn't tip the scale one way or another but puts it back on the scale.
WILLIAMS: But the win was a for Phillips only and said nothing about whether florists, photographers, and other businesses have the religious freedom to refuse service to same-sex couples.
JAMES ESSEKS (ACLU): They were absolutely looking for a ruling that said that businesses like this bakery have a right to discriminate and they didn't get that from this court. Not even close.
WILLIAMS: Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion said those disputes “must be resolved with tolerance to sincere religious believes without subjecting gay persons to indignities.”
TOM GOLDSTEIN: The big question about whether cakes are free speech, whether photographers could be protected in not serving same-sex weddings is completely unanswered today to the disappointment of both sides.
[Cuts back to live]
WILLIAMS: While today’s vote was 7-2, the court is probably closely divided on this religious freedom issue. So when the next case gets here, the outcome will likely depend whether Justice Anthony Kennedy intends to retire at this end of the term or stay on. Lester.
HOLT: Alright, Pete Williams, thank you.
CBS Evening News
June 4, 2018
6:37:08 PM Eastern [2 minutes 30 seconds]
JEFF GLOR: In a long-awaited decision, the U.S. Supreme Court sided today with a Colorado baker who refused on religious grounds to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Liberal Justices Breyer and Kagan joined the conservative majority. Jan Crawford tells us the court did leave unresolved a key issue in the case.
[Cuts to video]
JAN CRAWFORD: Moments after the court's ruling, in the Masterpiece Cake Shop, baker Jack Phillips celebrated what he saw as a victory for religious freedom. In a 7-2 ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court said Colorado officials, who compared Phillips’ religious objections to same-sex marriage to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust, demonstrated a “clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motived his objection” to baking a wedding cake.
Phillips told us, when the court was considering the case, he would serve same-sex couples other baked goods in his shop, but he would not create a wedding cake.
JACK PHILLIPS: Because the biblical teaching on marriage is pretty clear, and this is promoting a ceremony that goes against those core teachings.
CRAWFORD: But the court's ruling was narrow, and it may well apply only the Phillips. The justices made a plea for civility in future cases, writing: "These disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs and without subjecting guy persons to indignities." That language gave the couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullin, some comfort.
DAVID MULLINS: You know, I think the decision in our case is so specific that I don't think it will have a larger effect on the movement.
[Cuts back to live]
GLOR: It is complicated, nuanced the decision, right Jan? Good to have you on set tonight. You say this ruling may only apply to this particular baker. Why is that?
CRAWFORD: Well, I mean, the court flat-out said in its decision that the broader issue would have to be explored in future cases. But you can also look to what the individual justices said in their separate opinions.
Two liberal justices, who joined the majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy, wrote separately to say they thought state anti-discrimination laws could generally prohibit these kinds of religious objections. But two conservative justices, who also joined Justice Kennedy’s majority, wrote separately to say they thought these kind of religious objections were valid. All of this is to say this is not the final word. There are other cases on the horizon.
GLOR: Alright, our Supreme Court expert Jan Crawford. Jan, thanks.