Alito also seemed to minimize the significance of a refusal of a Colorado baker to produce a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The justice noted that the couple involved “was given a free cake by another bakery” and that the high-profile standoff prompted “celebrity chefs” to come to their defense.

Justices often include pointed, even barbed, language in their opinions. Indeed, Alito regularly does so, and many of his remarks Thursday night echoed similar comments he’s made in caustic dissents. Still, it is uncommon for a justice to weigh in on hot-button topics like abortion or gay rights in speaking appearances open to the press or public.

During his half-hour-long speech, Alito warned that not only is freedom of belief increasingly under threat, but freedom of expression is as well.

“One of the great challenges for the Supreme Court going forward will be to protect freedom of speech. Although that freedom is falling out of favor in some circles, we need to do whatever we can to prevent it from becoming a second-tier constitutional right,” he said.