For years, Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips has endured targeted attacks against him and his business, Masterpiece Cakeshop.
It all started in 2012 when the Colorado Civil Rights Commission pursued legal action against him after he respectfully declined a request to create a custom-designed cake celebrating a same-sex wedding.
In June 2018, Jack finally received the victory he deserved in that case. In a 7-to-2 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the state had acted with “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Jack’s religious beliefs, violating the First Amendment.
It should have ended there. But just when Jack thought he could breathe a sigh of relief, the same Colorado government agency decided to pursue Jack a second time—mere weeks after the high court’s decision. This time around, Colorado officials came after Jack because he declined to create a custom cake celebrating and symbolizing a gender transition.
But Jack’s legal journey is still not over! The individual who requested the gender-transition cake (and who also happens to be an attorney) decided to sue Jack in state court. Unfortunately, a Colorado trial ruled Jack could be forced to express things he does not believe. And a state appeals court affirmed that judgment. But Jack is not backing down.
Read the details of Jack’s latest case below.
Who is Jack Phillips?
By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about Jack. He serves everyone who walks into his shop, but he cannot create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with his deeply held religious beliefs. This includes Halloween cakes, cakes advocating drug use, and cakes disparaging people, including those who identify as LGBT.
In June 2017, a local attorney named Autumn Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop and requested a custom cake: designed blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate and reflect a transition from male to female. The shop declined the request because the message of the cake contradicts Jack’s religious belief that God creates us either male or female.
But the day that call came wasn’t just another summer day. It was the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear Jack’s first case—Jack and Masterpiece Cakeshop were all over the news.
Later, Scardina made another request of Masterpiece Cakeshop. This request was for a custom cake featuring Satan smoking marijuana, clearly showing Scardina’s malice against Jack and his beliefs.
Still, when Scardina filed a charge against Jack with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, it took the charge as an excuse to go after Jack again. It wasn’t until Jack sued the state for targeting him and Alliance Defending Freedom uncovered more evidence demonstrating the state’s anti-religious hostility that Colorado officials finally ended their crusade against him.
After Colorado abandoned the complaint against Jack, Scardina waited until long after the deadline to appeal that decision passed and then decided to start over somewhere else. Scardina has now sued Jack again about the same gender-transition cake request—only this time in a different court.
Autumn Scardina filed a lawsuit against Jack in state court. The claims are similar to those raised in the case against Jack that Colorado already dismissed. Scardina did not appeal the Commission’s dismissal, but instead filed a new lawsuit seeking to coerce Jack to express things he does not believe.
Scardina is misusing Colorado’s public-accommodation law to target Jack in the lawsuit. This is the same law that was at issue in 303 Creative v. Elenis, a case in which ADF attorneys represented graphic artist Lorie Smith.
In June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 303 Creative that Colorado cannot misuse its public-accommodation law to force people to express messages they don’t agree with. ADF attorneys have asked the Colorado Supreme Court to apply this ruling in Scardina v. Masterpiece Cakeshop to affirm Jack’s First Amendment freedom from government-coerced expression.
What’s at stake?
We live in a country where freedom of speech and religious freedom are protected. While we may disagree on certain issues, we should all be free to live and work according to our beliefs. Jack Phillips, just like Lorie Smith and every other creative professional, has the right to decline to use his artistic abilities to express messages or celebrate events he disagrees with.
But over the course of Jack’s legal battle, one thing has become abundantly clear: For some, it will never be enough to politely agree to disagree about important issues like the meaning of marriage or whether to celebrate a gender transition.
It wasn’t enough for Jack to lose a big part of his business after Colorado pursued him the first time. It wasn’t enough for Jack to have to defend his freedoms all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And it wasn’t enough for Jack and his family to endure years of harassment and even death threats.
For some, it won’t be enough until Masterpiece Cakeshop closes its doors. They want Jack, an average American business owner, to pay a hefty price—all because he wants to live and speak according to his faith.
- June 2019: Autumn Scardina filed a civil lawsuit against Jack.
- July 2019: Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a motion to dismiss this lawsuit and asked the court to bring an end to this harassment of Jack.
- April 2020: A district court heard arguments on that motion. A few weeks later, the court entered an order allowing part of the lawsuit to move forward.
- March 2021: The case went to trial.
- June 2021: The court ruled that Jack can be punished for declining to create cakes that violate his beliefs.
- August 2021: ADF attorneys representing Jack filed a notice of appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
- April 2023: After the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision, ADF attorneys appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
- July 2023: ADF attorneys filed a supplemental notice asking the Colorado Supreme Court to apply the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis to similarly affirm Jack’s First Amendment rights.
The bottom line
Free speech is for everyone. No one should be forced to express messages that violate their core beliefs—much less face over a decade of cruelty for protecting the freedom of all Americans to express what they believe without fear of government punishment.