Supreme Court's 'religious liberty' case could ripple in Georgia

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could have major implications for Georgia’s long-running “religious liberty” debate and draw a new line between what constitutes discrimination and First Amendment rights.

The high court will hear a case today between a Denver-area wedding cake maker and the gay couple he turned down in 2012 because of his Christian beliefs. The couple sued in Colorado court, citing the state’s anti-discrimination law, and won. The baker then appealed to the Supreme Court, teeing up the case that’s expected to become one of the body’s most high profile this session.

The baker says he is protected by the First Amendment, since his cakes constitutes art. The couple argues the law is clear: that business owners can’t discriminate when selling products or services to the public.

Spectators started lining up outside of the court on Capitol Hill this weekend to grab a coveted spot in the courtroom for oral arguments. Depending on how the justices rule this spring, their decision could impact how far businesses can go in standing up to government regulations, from health care to labor.

The case is being closely watched in Georgia, where the issue of religious liberty continues to reverberate in the Legislature and the gubernatorial race.

Gov. Nathan Deal continues to take heat from social conservatives for vetoing a bill in 2016 that would have allowed faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their “sincerely held religious belief."

Each of the leading Republican candidates to replace him has pledged to sign the legislation if presented it, and some supporters hope to revive the debate next year even though Deal warns it could jeopardize the state's hunt for Amazon's second headquarters.

Meanwhile, related fights over transgender bathroom access and the state's adoption laws promise to return when the legislature reconvenes in January.

The Trump administration has come out in favor of the baker, as have conservative Georgia Congressman Jody Hice, Barry Loudermilk and Rick Allen in a friend of the court filing. The state's two most liberal congressmen, John Lewis and Hank Johnson, signed onto a brief supporting the gay couple. 

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is a senior reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's enterprise team, where she covers public policy. 
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