In 2019 will people of faith be able to speak with and serve their neighbors authentically? Watch these cases

President Reagan memorably challenged his listeners to remember that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” If the Supreme Court’s 2018 decisions are an indication, both religious liberty and free speech live to see another day.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that Colorado showed hostility toward cake artist Jack Phillips when it treated him worse than other cake designers—just because of Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage. In NIFLA v. Becerra, the court ruled that the government has no business forcing pro-life nonprofits to advertise messages with which they disagree. Both decisions lend legal momentum for a series of five cases coming up in 2019, cases that help answer an important question: Will people of faith be able to speak with and serve their neighbors authentically, without government suppression or hostility?

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Elenis
Despite winning a 7-2 victory at the Supreme Court, Jack Philips faces continued harassment from the same state agency that targeted him before. In this latest case, a lawyer requested a cake that was pink on the inside and blue on the outside in order to celebrate that lawyers’ gender transition. But while Jack serves all customers, he doesn’t create custom cakes that convey messages contrary to his beliefs. So Jack politely declined the request, offering to create other cakes for the lawyer. That didn’t matter to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission though; it still charged Jack with violating the law, despite the fact that one of current commissioners has publicly referred to Jack as a “hater” on Twitter. That’s just one of many indications that the commission is again refusing to treat Jack with the tolerance and respect he deserves.


Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix
A Phoenix art studio that specializes in hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy for weddings is challenging a city ordinance that forces its two owners to create original artwork contrary to their faith. Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski believe in marriage between one man and woman, and they throw their heart and soul into their creative designs. But Phoenix requires them to design and hand-craft artwork like wedding vows and wedding signs celebrating same-sex marriage. For each day Joanna and Breanna do not fall in line, they face up to six months in jail and $2,500 in fines. The Arizona Supreme Court will hear their case later in January and will decide whether the government can compel Arizona artists to convey messages contrary to their core convictions.

The Downtown Soup Kitchen d/b/a Downtown Hope Center v. Municipality of Anchorage
A faith-based women’s homeless shelter in Anchorage, Alaska, faces legal challenges after it referred a drunk and injured man to the hospital and paid for his taxi ride there. The Anchorage Equal Rights Commission is investigating the shelter for allegedly violating the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance because a man identifying as female sought entry into the facility. But the Hope Center freely offers food, showers, and laundry to all members of the Anchorage community; it merely opens its women’s shelter—a single room where women sleep and undress—to women because most of the women Hope Center helps have been sex-trafficked, raped, and physically or emotionally abused by men. Hope Center’s freedom is at stake, but so is the safety and dignity of the vulnerable women it serves.


New Hope Family Services v. Poole
New Hope Family Services—a Syracuse, New York adoption agency—faces the immediate phase-out of its adoption program if it doesn’t change its policy of only placing children in homes with a married mom and dad or a truly single parent. For 50 years, New Hope has offered a comprehensive, “arm-around-the-shoulder” ministry, but state officials are seeking to shut down its adoption services simply because the ministry doesn’t place adoptive children with same-sex or unmarried couples. Protecting this nonprofit does nothing to interfere with the policies of other adoption providers, but closing New Hope means fewer kids find a loving home, fewer adoptive parents welcome their new child, and fewer birth parents enjoy the exceptional support the ministry has offered for decades. In short, everyone loses if New York forces New Hope to shut down.

The American Legion v. American Humanist Association
A WWI memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland, known as the “Peace Cross” stands to honor 49 men who gave their lives in service to their country. Originally funded by private dollars and placed on private land, the memorial became a historical site in a public intersection. Because it’s shaped like a cross, the American Humanist Association sued to remove it, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found the memorial to be unconstitutional. But the American Legion asked the Supreme Court to take the case and overturn that lower court decision. Many other groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs too, urging the high court to protect the Peace Cross and other similar memorials that honor the valor and sacrifice of those who have served our country. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and religious freedom advocates are hopeful that the court will clarify once and for all that governments can acknowledge religion when honoring the service of its citizens.

From Alaska to New York, Arizona to Maryland, this small constellation of cases illustrates the freedoms at stake in 2019, and beyond. Their outcomes will factor into the question of whether freedom will continue to flourish for generations to come.