Colorado Supreme Court to hear cake baker’s latest religious freedom case

Cake artist Jack Phillips owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood Colorado Credit Alliance Defending Freedom CNA Cake artist Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. | Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Jack Phillips, the cake baker whose yearslong fight for religious freedom made him a household name, will be returning to the courtroom — this time before Colorado’s Supreme Court. 

In 2018, Phillips went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, where he won in a landmark decision after being sued by Colorado for declining to bake a same-sex wedding cake. 

Now, in the third case against him, Phillips is being sued by Autumn Scardina, a man who identifies as a woman, for refusing to bake a pink birthday cake with blue frosting intended to celebrate Scardina’s transgender self-identification.

Scardina’s suit contends that Phillips violated Scardina’s right to freedom from discrimination in a place of public accommodation. The suit was based on Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which marks “sexual orientation” and “transgender status” as protected classes.

After both a trial court and an appeals court ruled against him, Phillips appealed and is being represented by the religious freedom law firm Alliance Defending Freedom. 

With Colorado’s Supreme Court taking up the appeal, Phillips, a Christian, will be arguing to the state judiciary’s highest officials that declining to create custom cakes that express messages he considers objectionable is an exercise of his freedom of religion. 

Who is Jack Phillips?

A skilled artist, Phillips opened his company Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, in 1993. 

Phillips and his wife, Debi, who is co-owner of the shop, both rediscovered their Christian faith as adults and prioritize their relationship with Christ. Part of that means that they choose not to create cakes that violate their consciences. 

The baker has said that in the past, he’s declined to make a variety of types of cakes, including ones for Halloween, divorce, and cakes with disparaging messages.  

Phillips, who has written a book on how his faith took him to the highest court in the nation, first encountered a legal rift when two men asked him to bake a gay wedding cake for them in 2012. 

He declined, telling CNA in a 2021 interview: “They swore at me, they flipped me off, they stormed out of my shop and filed a lawsuit.” 

Alliance Defending Freedom also represented him in that case, which ended in a victory at the Supreme Court after several rulings against him at the lower courts. He has said that the first legal battle cost him 40% of his business.

After that suit was adjudicated in the Supreme Court in 2018, Phillips was again the subject of a state lawsuit from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

That lawsuit by the state was initiated after Scardina, the same plaintiff in the current case against Phillips, issued a complaint when the baker declined to make a pink birthday cake with blue frosting, celebrating both Scardina’s birthday and gender transition.

Phillips and Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit against the state at that time, arguing he was being discriminated against for his faith. Both sides eventually agreed to drop the lawsuits. 

But the legal drama wasn’t over just yet. 

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Soon after that case was dropped, Scardina, who is a lawyer, sued Phillips in a third lawsuit. 

Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Jake Warner said in an Oct. 3 press release that “the government can’t force artists to express messages they don’t believe.”

“Because the attorney asked Jack to create a custom cake that would celebrate and symbolize a transition from male to female, the requested cake is speech under the First Amendment,” he said.

“Jack works with all people and always decides whether to create a custom cake based on what message it will express, not who requests it,” Warner added.

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