Phillips then appealed his case to the state's human rights commission, which ruled against him. He appealed again to the state's court of appeals, which also ruled against him. The Colorado Supreme Court did not take up Phillips' case.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court. It was re-listed repeatedly throughout the winter and spring of 2017, before the Court finally decided to take the case in June, at the end of its term.
Once the case is decided at the Supreme Court, the ruling is expected to cap one of the most decisive religious freedom cases of this century.
"It has been said, and I think accurately so, that this could be one of the most important First Amendment cases in terms of free speech and the free exercise of religion in a century or more, and it could be a landmark, seismic kind of case of First Amendment jurisprudence," Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) stated at a Thursday press conference at the U.S. Capitol.
As state amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman were declared unconstitutional by the court in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2013, states have also begun enforcing laws against discrimination on basis of sexual identity. The conscientious refusal of certain business owners, like florists and bakers, to serve same-sex weddings has been ruled unlawful in several states, including Colorado.
In Phillips' case, he has a right to freedom of expression as an artist, Alliance Defending Freedom has argued, and this right has been recognized as protected by the First Amendment. If the Supreme Court rules in Phillips' favor in this case, it could have ramifications in other cases where business owners face discrimination lawsuits.
"The Supreme Court has said that things like that [art] are covered under the protection of the First Amendment," Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of the U.S. legal division for ADF, stated at the Heritage Foundation panel event.
Throughout the ordeal, Phillips has paid a heavy price for his stand. He has lost 40 percent of his family's income and more than half his employees, he said.
The initial briefs have been filed with the Supreme Court. Amicus briefs are currently being filed, the opposing briefs will come in October, and the reply of ADF to those briefs the following month. The case will likely be decided late next spring.
ADF has argued in its brief before the Supreme Court that the rulings by the state's court of appeals and human rights commission that the state can determine which free artistic expression is protected under the First Amendment stands in flagrant opposition to the original meaning of the Constitution.
"But just as the Commission cannot compel Phillips's art, neither may the government suppress it," ADF stated.
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Instead, the conflict between Phillips' freedom as an artist and the wishes of his customers should be solved by the citizens themselves, and not by the government, ADF said.
"There is a better way – one that allows the Commission to ensure that businesses do not refuse to serve people simply because of who they are, but protects individuals like Phillips from being forced to create expression about marriage that violates their core convictions," ADF's brief stated.
"The path to civility, progress, and freedom does not crush those who hold unpopular views, pushing them from the public square," ADF said. "It allows free citizens to determine for themselves 'the ideas and beliefs deserving of expression, consideration, and adherence'."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with the Colorado Catholic Conference, the Catholic Medical Association, and other Catholic non-profits have also weighed in on the case, submitting an amici curiae brief on behalf of Masterpiece Cakeshop.
Religious freedom must never mean just the freedom to worship or the freedom to practice one's religion in private, the brief said. The First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause "guarantees every individual the right to seek the truth in religious matters and then adhere to that truth through private and public action."
In an apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel, Pope Francis recently insisted that "no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concerns for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society."