Ten years after he refused to bake a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding, Jack Phillips is back in court fighting for what he says is the right of Americans to live according to their consciences without fear or retribution.
Last week, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys representing Phillips filed an appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals after a state district court ruled that Phillips had violated Colorado anti-discrimination law by refusing to bake a gender-transition cake for a transgender customer.
Phillips has been fighting in court since 2012 and his case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Ironically, on the same day in 2017 when the Supreme Court announced it would hear Phillips’s case over his refusal to make a cake celebrating a homosexual wedding, Colorado lawyer Autumn Scardina decided to “challenge the veracity” of Phillips’s statement that he would serve LGBT people. Scardina, a male, called to ask for a blue cake that was pink in the middle and said it was a cake to celebrate his transition to female. Phillips’ family informed Scardina they could not make the cake because of the message Scardina wanted to convey.
Scardina claims he was testing to see if Phillips would actually make a cake for a transgender person yet specifically asked for the cake in a way that would reveal what the cake was for. After Phillips’ refusal, Scardina filed a complaint of discrimination.
Phillips has routinely served LGBT customers including customer Mike Jones, who informed Phillips he was gay on his first visit to Masterpiece Cakeshop and has received custom cakes at least 25 times. Phillips also refuses to make other cakes with different messages that violate his religious beliefs including Halloween cakes, sexually explicit cakes, and cakes meant to demean anyone.
Despite this, a district court ruled in favor of Scardina last year. ADF attorneys appealed that decision last Wednesday.
ADF Senior Counsel Jake Warner said,
“No one should be forced to express a message that violates their beliefs and conscience. Activists and state laws have threatened artists like Jack and graphic artist Lorie Smith because they can’t express messages on marriage and gender that violate their core beliefs. In this case, an activist attorney demanded that Jack create expressive cakes to test him and ‘correct the errors’ of his thinking. The attorney even promised to sue Jack again if the case is dismissed for any reason. Free speech is for everyone. The Constitution protects the freedom of every American to express ideas even if the government disagrees with those ideas.”
The Supreme Court gave Phillips a partial victory in 2018; however, its refusal to address the core of the First Amendment issues left not only other Americans but Phillips open to more of the same. The Court chose to only address the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s discriminatory treatment of Phillips’s beliefs, rather than his constitutional liberties. That refusal has led Phillips to be targeted by activists like Scardina and others who want to punish those who do not affirm their lifestyle and to force through the courts decisions that will defang the right to religious freedom.
The Supreme Court has a chance to again address this issue in 303 Creative v. Elenis in which Colorado-based web designer Lori Smith is challenging Colorado’s law that would require her to make websites for gay weddings. The Court, however, has said that it will only address her free speech claims and not her freedom of religion claim.
Compelled speech is unconstitutional. Forcing a person to make an artistic expression supporting a belief or action is compelled speech. There shouldn’t be anything difficult about this decision. The government cannot force a person to convey a message that violates his or her beliefs. If courts want Americans to have the right to refuse compelled speech, they must rule in favor of religious objectors.
1 Peter 4:1-5 says,
“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”
Christians are called to live differently than the world and that means not giving approval to those things the world does that the Bible says are wrong. The world will malign us as “bigots,” but we know the truth and we must live out our faith and stand strong as Jack Phillips has — no matter the cost.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.