Back in 1993, when Jack Phillips opened his dream bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, the local paper covered the grand opening.
"Walking into the [bakery] is akin to walking into an art gallery of cakes," the article said.
And the same holds true today. Jack is a cake artist. You know, like the ones you see on TV with their elaborate confections of cake, buttercream, and fondant. In Jack's world, a cake is a blank canvas for elaborate paintings, sculptures, and custom designs. Watching him work—creating these centerpieces for life's special events—is a treat in itself.
But there's one thing missing from Jack's gallery of cakes these days—wedding cakes.
Jack has stopped creating cakes for weddings because if he does, he risks being hauled into court and fined because of a Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling that says Jack discriminated when he declined to create a cake for the celebration of a same-sex union in 2012.
Jack believes that God created marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Instead of acknowledging that the First Amendment protects his right to live out and express his faith, the state decided to force Jack to promote the government's view of marriage in his business over his own beliefs. The Commission ordered Jack to stop “discriminating,” “reeducate his staff,” and file quarterly compliance reports.
And unfortunately, that ruling will continue to stand, for now, after the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear Jack's appeal earlier this week.
Artistic Expression Is Speech
Jack doesn't create cakes for all events. He has a set of values based on his religious beliefs—a moral code—that he lives his life by, including in his work. And when an event conflicts with his beliefs, he doesn't participate. He can't.
"[Declining an order] is not just the case for same-sex weddings. I haven't singled out that one issue as something I won't do. I don't make cakes for bachelor parties, I don't make Halloween cakes, or anything involving witchcraft. . .," says Jack.
Just like a Kentucky court agreed that a religious printer cannot be forced to print certain messages on t-shirts against his conscience, a cake artist, through his artistic expression, shouldn't be forced to use his talents to promote a message that violates his conscience. It's Free Expression 101.
Blatant Anti-Religious Bigotry in Colorado
Ironically, in 2015, the same Civil Rights Commission exonerated Colorado cake artists who declined to create cakes that violated their own consciences. So what was the type of message that was requested for these cakes? Bible verses that conveyed the customer’s religious opposition to same-sex marriage.
The Commission stood by these bakers’ rights not to be forced to promote a message that they disagree with, but not Jack's. In doing so, the Commission clearly showed its hand.
"The commission’s inconsistent rulings mean that the owners of these three cake shops may run them according to their beliefs, while Jack cannot,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. "He risks losing his life-long business altogether if he continues to run it consistent with his faith. Such blatant religious discrimination has no place in our society.”
This is not the first time obvious anti-religious bigotry has played a role in Jack's case. During one hearing, a commissioner went so far as to state that religious freedom is a “despicable piece of rhetoric” that Nazis, slaveholders, and Jack used to “hurt others.”
When we have leaders in our country who hold this intolerant view of religion, it is no wonder that religious freedom and expression is so devalued in our society today.
What the Future Holds for Jack
Jack is currently considering his legal options before his next step. But no matter what Jack decides to do, the beauty of this situation is that Jack is already blessed (James 1:12). He has the admiration of Christians everywhere for his strong, humble stand for freedom. He has put his faith before the demands of men, and that is all any of us can hope to do in our lifetimes.
Please be praying for Jack and his family as they seek the Lord for wisdom and guidance during this time.