Denver, Colo., Mar 24, 2021 / 21:01 pm
Jack Phillips, a Christian cake baker, was again in court for declining to make a cake that expresses messages contrary to his religious beliefs after an attorney who identifies as transgender filed suit over the bakery's refusal to make a cake to celebrate a gender transition.
The civil trial began March 22, conducted virtually by Denver County Judge Alan Jones, the Associated Press reports. The lawsuit alleges he violated the state's anti-discrimination law.
Phillips' attorney Sean Gates said the baker serves customers from all backgrounds and could refuse to make a product whose message he disagreed with.
"The evidence will show that if Jack Phillips bakes that cake that it would mean he agrees a gender transition is something to celebrate. This lawsuit isn't about discrimination, it's about the freedom to disagree," said Gates, according to Courthouse News Service.
"Masterpiece Cakeshop has regular customers who are gay, Masterpiece Cakeshop has regular customers who are transgender. The issue has to do with the message," the lawyer said.
John McHugh, an attorney for Colorado lawyer Autumn Scardina, who identifies as a transgender woman, said it does not matter whether his client asked for a sex-change cake or a birthday cake.
"What matters is they refused to make her a cake based on her identity," he said.
Scardina said the cake order aimed to test Phillips' statements about what he would refuse to make. Scardina's lawyer, Paula Greisen, asked whether it was a "setup."
"It was more of calling someone's bluff," Scardina said, the Associated Press reports.
Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., a Denver suburb. In 2018, with support from the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, he won a six year legal battle in the U.S. Supreme Court after he faced legal action for declining to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex couple's union. The court's 7-2 decision did not rule on the free speech claims or the claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Rather, it found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission proceedings against the baker "showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection."
Phillips has said in the past that he not only has declined same-sex union cakes, but he also declines other types of cakes that go against his beliefs, including cakes for Halloween, bachelor parties, divorce, cakes with alcohol in the ingredients, and cakes with atheist messages.
Scardina had some involvement with the cakeshop controversy as far back as 2012, emailing the bakery to call him a bigot and a hypocrite for declining to bake the same-sex cake. The same year, Scardina contacted the Colorado commission offering to serve as a complainant if the same-sex couple did not proceed with their complaint.
Scardina said that by 2017 she had forgotten her anger over the same-sex wedding cake, Courthouse News Service has reported.
In June 2017, the day the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Phillips' previous case, Scardina contacted Masterpiece Cakes and requested a cake with a pink and blue design to celebrate a gender transition. The bakery declined the order from Scardina, setting in motion another legal and political dispute.
Three months after winning the Supreme Court case, Phillips faced a legal complaint from Scardina. In the following year, Phillips' cakeshop received multiple requests for cakes celebrating Satan, using satanic symbols, requesting sexually explicit content, or promoting marijuana use, Alliance Defending Freedom's case briefing said. Scardina had requested at least one of these satanic-themed cakes, according to the brief.
In a deposition, Scardina said, "I think I wanted him to make me a cake with an image of Satan smoking a joint."
When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission accepted Scardina's complaint in June 2018, Phillips then countersued Colorado. He claimed that he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs. The discovery phase of the case found evidence the state was displaying "anti-religious hostility." Some commissioners had agreed that religious freedom is "a despicable piece of rhetoric" and a commissioner told a Colorado state legislator that the commission had "an anti-religious bias."
The case before the commission was dropped in March 2019 in an agreement between Phillips and the State of Colorado that left open a lawsuit from Sardinia. In June 2019, Scardina filed the new lawsuit against Phillips.
Scardina seeks damages, fines, and attorneys' fees. Phillips' lawyers said the lawsuit could bankrupt him, noting he already gave up a significant amount of wedding cake business while his Supreme Court case was pending.
"Jack has been threatened with financial ruin simply because he makes decisions about which messages to create and celebrate-decisions that every other artist in Colorado is free to make. Tolerance for different opinions is essential," Kristen Waggoner, Alliance Defending Freedom general counsel, said March 4.
As CNA has previously reported, wealthy donors have committed millions of dollars to strategic funding of efforts to limit religious freedom where it conflicts with LGBT and pro-abortion rights causes.
Some $500,000 in spending from religious freedom foes focused on advocacy and public relations campaigns related to the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court decision.
The rise of LGBT political and cultural movements has increased religious freedom conflicts. A Supreme Court case is pending that could determine whether Catholic adoption agencies may continue to operate if they cannot in good conscience follow laws mandating that they place children with same-sex couples.