Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday backed a recent Supreme Court decision in favor of a Christian baker who refused to make a custom cake for a same-sex couple, saying that “there are plenty of other people to bake that cake.”
Speaking at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s annual Leadership Mission in Washington, Sessions characterized an increasingly hostile environment for people with religious convictions. He then commended the Supreme Court’s decision to support Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado.
“There is no need for the power of government — no need for the state’s power — to be arrayed against an individual who is honestly attempting to live out — to freely exercise — his sincere religious beliefs,” Sessions told the gathering of the Advocacy Center, the public-policy arm of the largest Orthodox Jewish organization in the country. “And there are plenty of other people to that cake — give me a break.”
In 2012, Phillips cited his religious beliefs when rejecting a request from a couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, to make a custom cake for their wedding. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission later ordered Phillips to “cease and desist” from refusing to make custom cakes for same-size couples, to change his business policies, to undergo “comprehensive staff training” and to keep two years’ worth of records about any refusals in his business.
The high court ruled narrowly last week, saying the civil rights commission didn’t employ religious neutrality. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing in the majority opinion, said the commission showed “hostility” toward Phillips’ religious beliefs.
Sessions has been a vocal advocate for religious freedom and issued a government-wide legal guidance last year urging sweeping protection for religious freedom.
During his address on Wednesday, he announced that in keeping with the Trump administration’s promise to shield religious freedom, the Justice Department had filed a lawsuit against Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA.
The lawsuit follows the department’s investigation into Woodcliff Lake zoning practices that have prevented an Orthodox Jewish congregation from expanding into a larger synagogue.
Sessions also discussed the Justice Department’s “Place to Worship Initiative,” announced Wednesday. A department news release said the initiative “will focus on protecting the ability of houses of worship and other religious institutions to build, expand, buy, or rent facilities — as provided by the land use provisions” of RLUIPA.
The attorney general ended his remarks by praising efforts to prevent anti-Semitic hate crimes throughout the country. He also applauded “significant steps against Islamist terrorism.”