Colorado, end your crusade against Masterpiece Cakeshop

Colorado, end your crusade against Masterpiece Cakeshop
© Camile Fine

In December 2017, cake artist Jack Phillips traveled to our nation’s capital for his day in court. Outside the marble building, supporters gathered, held signs, and chanted, “We’ve got Jack’s back!”

Given present circumstances, I can’t help but wonder if Colorado state officials were at that very moment huddled in their offices in downtown Denver, chanting, “We’ve got a target on your back, Jack!” It’s certainly not as catchy, but it would seem to accurately reflect the state’s unrelenting fixation on one man. Yet this obsession is proving to be problematic.

ADVERTISEMENT

Just two months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a sharp rebuke to the state of Colorado, condemning its “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Jack Phillips and his business, Masterpiece Cakeshop. The court’s ruling established that people like Jack should not be bullied by the government for peacefully living out their religious beliefs.

 

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the state is once again seeking to use the machinations of government to crush Jack.

This latest crusade against Jack began while the first was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 26, 2017, the very day that the Supreme Court agreed to review Masterpiece, a Colorado attorney called Masterpiece Cakeshop and requested a custom cake with a blue exterior and pink interior in order to celebrate a gender transition from male to female.

If you are even remotely acquainted with the Masterpiece case, you can predict what happened next. Jack’s shop declined the request, because while he will serve all people, he will not create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events that violate his beliefs. Incidentally, it is safe to assume that the attorney was aware of Jack’s beliefs since the attorney “take[s] great pride” in suing businesses that allegedly “discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and serving them their just desserts.”

Understanding this motivation, it’s no surprise that the attorney promptly filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (which is charged with investigating complaints for the Colorado Civil Rights Commission). The division was happy to partner with the attorney in this quest and extend the state’s own six-year campaign against Jack. After investigating the complaint for nearly a year, just 24 days after the Supreme Court released its decision in Masterpiece, the division issued a determination letter finding probable cause to believe that Masterpiece Cakeshop had acted unlawfully in declining the attorney’s cake request.

Jack now finds himself in the unenviable position of being forced to again defend his right to live consistently with what the Supreme Court has acknowledged are his “sincere religious beliefs.” Why must he do this?

Not because Jack refuses to serve anyone, because he doesn’t. Jack serves all people. What he can’t do is make all cakes. Jack doesn’t design custom cakes that celebrate divorce, disparage LGBT individuals, celebrate Halloween, or contain sexual images or messages. His decisions whether to create particular cakes are never based on the individual requesting them; those decisions are always based on the message being requested or the event being celebrated.

And certainly not because Jack’s beliefs have no place in a diverse society, because they do. In ruling for Jack, a 7-2 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court found that Jack declined to create a custom cake celebrating a same-sex wedding based on his “sincere religious beliefs and convictions,” it endorsed Jack’s right to freely exercise his religion, and it condemned Colorado for failing in its obligation to religious neutrality.

Jack is in the crosshairs again for three reasons: First, because certain Colorado officials have made the deliberate choice to target him. Second, because the attorney who requested the cake made the deliberate choice to request a custom cake with a message that Jack could not in good conscience design. And third, because, as a society, we have failed to collectively stand and declare “enough”!

Jack is willing to take a stand. That’s why he went to the Supreme Court in December 2017. And that’s why, on Aug. 14, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on Jack’s behalf against the officials with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and Commission.

Personally and professionally, Jack has already lost a great deal. He has faced death threats, been subjected to the vilest verbal attacks imaginable, and lost personal and professional relationships. And the government forced him to stop creating wedding cakes altogether, which cost him 40 percent of his business. There’s no expectation that this next legal battle will be any less difficult. But still he stands—not just for his freedom, but for yours.

We live in a diverse society. We come from different backgrounds, pursue distinct educational paths, practice a panoply of religions, support conflicting political ideologies, and embrace disparate lifestyles. These are undeniable facts. We can either tolerate these differences or make every effort to eliminate them. A free society will choose tolerance.

James Gottry is legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop.