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Activist Lawyer Targets Jack Phillips in Third Lawsuit

After over 10 years in court, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips is still being sued.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Jack Phillips is once again being threatened with punishment for exercising free speech and his religious freedom

For over a decade, 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 him 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 so-called “gender transition.”

Colorado was unjustly targeting Jack. Thankfully, after he filed a federal lawsuit against the state, Colorado backed off.

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 court ruled that 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. ADF has appealed the case on his behalf, and the Colorado Supreme Court will hear oral argument in June 2024.

Jack Phillips is once again being threatened with punishment for exercising his First Amendment freedom.

Why was Jack targeted a third time?

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 symbolize a transition from male to female. The shop declined the request because the message of the cake contradicts Jack’s religious belief that human beings are created by God 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.

When Scardina filed a charge against Jack with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, the government 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 had 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 state court. This is the third lawsuit directly targeting Jack for his religious beliefs.

Scardina has vowed to continue harassing Jack until he is punished, aiming to “correct the errors of [his] thinking.” The Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to hear this third lawsuit against Jack, and it should send a clear message that all artists are free to express what they believe without being punished.

How does the Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis affect this case?

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 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Scardina to affirm Jack’s First Amendment freedom from government-coerced expression.

How are Jack’s rights being threatened?

We live in a country where freedom of speech and religious freedom are protected. While Americans may disagree on certain issues, we should all be free to express what we believe without being punished by the government. Jack Phillips, just like Lorie Smith and every other artist, has the right to create freely, expressing only those messages that are consistent with his core beliefs. 

But over the course of Jack’s legal journey, 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 targeted 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, a quiet, hardworking cake artist, to pay a hefty price—all because he wants to express messages according to his faith. 

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Scardina

  • June 2019: Autumn Scardina filed a civil lawsuit against Jack.
  • July 2019: ADF 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 custom 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 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.
  • October 2023: The Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Oral argument will take place June 18.