GREAT NEWS !!
But first the bad news: Religious liberty continues to be in jeopardy in Colorado, the home of Christian baker and cake artist, Jack Phillips, and his Masterpiece Cakeshop.
But here is the good news: The judicial system has once again ruled in its favor. A federal district court in Denver has ruled that Christian cake artist and baker, Jack Phillips, can proceed in his lawsuit against the State of Colorado for its alleged continued harassment of him on account of his religious beliefs. The district court, in allowing the case to go forward, found there is evidence that there continues to be hostility against Phillips on account of his religious beliefs which is responsible for the unequal treatment against him.
You may remember that Phillips was censured by the state of Colorado (the Colorado Civil Rights Commission) for declining to create a cake for a same-sex couple back in 2012. The couple had asked for a 7-layer cake, representing the colors of the rainbow, with two men in tuxedos being married on top. Phillips declined the request, explaining that the message he would be sending through his design would offend his sincerely and deeply-held religious beliefs. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission claiming Phillips and the Masterpiece Cakeshop discriminated against them in violation of the state’s public accommodations law, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). The Commission agreed and ordered the cakeshop owner and his staff to undergo a rigorous re-education program (teaching “tolerance”), as well as to invoke certain serious restrictions on them [by requiring that he bake cakes for same-sex couples (ie, he cannot discriminate for any reason) and requiring that he and his staff record, subject to regular state audits, every customer who requests a custom cake and the reasons when a request is denied]. Phillips appealed but was denied, and then finally appealed the Commission’s decision to the Colorado appellate court. The court upheld the Commission’s finding and decision. Phillips chose to stop creating wedding cakes rather than cave to government coercion. He lost a significant portion of his income and could no longer support the staff he had working for him. He, with help from the pro-First Amendment legal team, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.
In June 2018, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case (Phillips v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission), ruling that Phillips was wrongfully prosecuted for declining to bake the cake. Rather than address the actual issue of “compelled speech” or religious liberty (see below), the decision rested on the obvious hostility towards religion that clearly motivated the Commission to take action and penalize the Christian baker. For example, in 2014, Commissioner Diann Rice makes the following comment just before denying Phillips’ request to temporarily suspend the commission’s re-education order:
“I would also like to reiterate what we said in…the last meeting [concerning Jack Phillips]. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust… I mean, we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use – to use their religion to hurt others.”
On June 26, 2017, the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Jack Phillip’s appeal, an attorney, Autumn Scardina, called Masterpiece Cakeshop and requested a birthday cake. During a discussion of the customer’s preferred specifications for the confection, Scardina revealed that she wanted the cake to have a pink interior and a blue exterior. Then she added that the colors were to celebrate her coming out as transgender on her birthday, some years earlier. At that point, Debi Phillips (Jack’s wife, and the co-owner of the cake shop) declined to create the cake because of the Phillips’ belief that gender is biological, and immutable.
Scardina later asked Phillips to design a cake with satanic themes and images—a request that Phillips also declined because of the message the cake would communicate. Scardina then filed a civil rights complaint against Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, charging discrimination on the basis of gender identity, a protected status under Colorado anti-discrimination law.
Less than a month after the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips in his first case (June 2018), the state of Colorado surprised him by finding probable cause to believe that he violated the CADA by declining to create the requested gender-transition cake. The Commission concluded that the statute includes transgender individuals in its prohibition against discrimination based on gender.
As with his decision not to create a cake celebrating gay pride and same-sex marriage, Phillips’ decision not to make the pink/blue cake which clearly was intended to express a message celebrating Scardina’s transgender status was based on his connection to (and what outsiders might view as his acceptance of) that message and not based on the identity of the customer.
In response to this renewed attack against him, Jack Phillips and his lawyers with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed their own suit, in the US district court in Denver, against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and specifically, Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. It was Elenis who issued the finding that that there is “sufficient evidence” to support a claim of discrimination against Phillips. ADF argued that “the state of Colorado is violating Phillips’ First Amendment free exercise of religion rights by continuing to treat him differently than other cake artists and by acting with hostility toward him and his faith.” District court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel issued a ruling on January 4, concluding that Phillips may proceed with a second lawsuit claiming the state of Colorado is again wrongly prosecuting him. Judge Daniel said there is evidence of unequal treatment against Phillips, given that the state of Colorado, through the Commission, allows other cake artists to decline requests to create cakes “that express messages they deem objectionable and would not express for anyone.” This “disparate treatment,” the court said, “reveals” the state officials’ ongoing “hostility towards Phillips, which is sufficient to establish they are pursuing the discrimination charges against Phillips in bad faith, motivated by Phillips’ religion….” The ruling further added that Phillips “has adequately alleged his speech is being chilled by the credible threat of prosecution.”
A commissioner set to decide the state’s new case against Phillips has publicly referred to him as a ‘hater’ on Twitter, which was just one of several clear indications of the commission’s ongoing bias against him, the bad faith motivating its continued harassment of him, and its outright hostility towards his beliefs.