Jack Phillips is gentle and soft-spoken, but America’s most controversial cake baker is not exactly hiding his beliefs. Phillips has spent the last six years in and out of courtrooms, defending his right to run his bakery in accordance with his religion, and the experience seems to have affirmed his faith. Various Christian symbols and decor are scattered throughout Masterpiece Cakeshop, and on a table near the door a stack of cards for customers offers “The Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Phillips’s ordeal began in 2012 when he was sanctioned by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for refusing to bake a custom cake for a gay couple’s commitment ceremony. At the time, gay marriage was not legal and marriage was specifically defined in Colorado’s state constitution as being between one man and one woman. After administrative, state, and federal legal battles that led to a downsizing of his business from 10 employees to 4, in early June this year the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Phillips’s favor in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
The High Court ruled that the law requires the state to act neutrally toward religious beliefs and that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted with animus toward Phillips’s faith. But that wasn’t the end of the story. In late June, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission arrived at a probable cause determination against Phillips, claiming that Colorado law required him to bake a cake celebrating a local lawyer’s gender transition (he had refused the request last year.)
The new charges could result in another multi-year legal battle for Phillips, something he’s eager to avoid. “I’m hopeful that they can reach some sort of agreement long before that. I don’t want to give up six years doing this again,” he tells The Weekly Standard. “I’d like to see this resolved quickly, but let’s see what happens.”
Fortunately for Phillips, he’s still being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian legal group that won his Supreme Court case. ADF has won all nine of the religious freedom cases it has brought before the Supreme Court in the last seven years. Phillips’s lawyers are so confident that this latest move by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission is egregious that on August 14, ADF filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Colorado seeking damages for continuing to violate Phillips’s civil rights.
“We recognize that there are some procedural or jurisdictional hurdles that we will have to climb over in this case. It’s something we’re expecting,” ADF attorney Jake Warner tells The Weekly Standard. “There’s good reason to think that we will [get around the hurdles] in this case, because Colorado is targeting Jack again. We think that is bad faith.”
In the Masterpiece case, it wasn’t difficult to conclude that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with animus; commissioner Diann Rice compared Phillips’s motivations to those of people who justified slavery and the Holocaust, for example. Phillips, whose father landed on Omaha Beach, was wounded by a mortar in the Battle of the Bulge, and was one of the soldiers that liberated Buchenwald, took this personally. “In the [veterans’] cemetery over here in Fort Logan where he’s buried, there are rows and rows of headstones—that’s what he fought for,” Phillips told The Weekly Standard last year. “And for them to say, ‘[His son’s freedom] doesn’t count anymore,’ he would roll over in his grave.”
As well, the facts behind the latest charges seem more specious than the earlier case. According to the complaint, Autumn Scardina called Phillips’s bakery on June 26, 2017, and asked for a cake that would be blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate Scardina’s gender transition. The order for the cake was declined.
But June 26, 2017, is not a random date. It’s the same day the Supreme Court announced it was taking up Phillips’s case. It seems highly unlikely that Scardina, a lawyer, was unaware of what was going on with Phillips’s bakery. (Scardina claims to have been “stunned” to discover that Phillips would not bake a gender transition cake.) The lawsuit filed by ADF suggests that Scardina might also have been behind several requests that Phillips bake cakes with Satanic imagery, including an email request sent on June 4, 2018, the day the Supreme Court announced its verdict in favor of Phillips:
When the Supreme Court ruled that the commission had acted with animus toward Phillips, it punted on the question of whether a custom cake counted as speech covered by the First Amendment. In a much-discussed footnote to her concurrence, however, Justice Elena Kagan disputed the notion that a custom wedding cake counts as speech. “The cake requested was not a special ‘cake celebrating same-sex marriage.’ It was simply a wedding cake—one that (like other standard wedding cakes) is suitable for use at same-sex and opposite-sex weddings alike,” she wrote. In the latest complaint against Phillips, it can’t be denied that the requested gender transition cake, with its colors and symbolism, was designed to communicate a specific message.
“This decision [by the commission] even contradicts what Colorado said before the U.S. Supreme Court, and there’s about three or four things that Colorado said in [its] briefing that cake artists could do. For example, cake artists could decline to create cakes with ‘pro gay designs or inscriptions.’ They said cake artists can decline to create cakes celebrating same sex marriages that ‘feature a symbol of Gay Pride.’ They said cake artists can decline to create cakes with messages that they consider, quote, offensive, and Jack relied on those statements,” says Warner.
In the meantime, Phillips continues dealing with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. He recently attended a mandatory mediation session related to his refusal to bake the gender transition cake. He’s also still fighting in the court of public opinion. Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, named in Phillips’s lawsuit, recently gave a handful of interviews condemning Phillips. “If you’re making someone a cake or you’re making a bicycle, it’s something that you do every day for a broad cross-section of people and it’s open to the public, I don’t think there should be bias involved in who you choose to serve and who you don’t,” Hickenlooper told Colorado Public Radio.
“People will come in and they’ll say … ‘You know, you don’t serve gays’—and that’s absolutely not true,” says Phillips. “I serve everybody.” In fact, when protesters showed up at his shop earlier this year, there’s video of him walking out with a tray full of cookies and offering them to the small throng of people waving pride flags.
Phillips didn’t set out to be a First Amendment test case; he just wants to get back to baking. “We’re almost 25 years old; can we build up a really good business right here? We’ve won like three or four awards for it,” he says. “Right now, it’s not practical to get back into it because I need to hire and train like five or six more people and I can’t do that within a season.”
Elsewhere in the bakery, a Bible lies open to Isaiah 50. When you consider what he’s been through, it’s not hard to understand why Phillips might be fond of verses six and seven: “I did not hide my face from shame and spitting / For the Lord God will help me; Therefore I will not be disgraced.”