You would think that a victory for Jack Phillips at the U.S. Supreme Court would have been enough to deter the Colorado Civil Rights Commission from showing hostility toward him and his religious beliefs. But you would be wrong.
Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, faced a second round of harassment for simply running his business according to his faith.
For over six years, Colorado had been on a crusade to crush Jack because officials on the commission were hostile to his religious beliefs.
On the same day the Supreme Court agreed to hear Jack’s first case in June 2017, a local attorney and LGBT activist contacted Jack’s shop and requested a cake with a pink and blue design celebrating that attorney’s “transition” from male to female. After Jack declined, the attorney who requested the pink and blue cake filed a complaint with the state of Colorado challenging Jack’s decision.
Despite the 7-2 ruling against the state in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and despite the facts suggesting that the requested cake was an apparent setup, Colorado doubled down on its hostility toward Jack’s religious beliefs by filing a formal administrative complaint against him.
But the commission’s overt hostility again led to its downfall—and justice for Jack. Let’s look at how that happened.
Jack Phillips, a Colorado native and cake artist, has served the community of Lakewood for three decades. In 1993, he opened Masterpiece Cakeshop, where he has created custom cake art for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations. His shop also sells cookies, brownies, and other items that anyone in the community can enjoy.
Masterpiece Cakeshop is a family business. Jack's wife is a co-owner of the shop. His daughter helps him decorate cakes, and a sister volunteers to keep the shop clean.
Jack’s faith influences how he operates his business. His faith teaches him “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Jack views his business as a way that God can use him to bless others in the community and be a part of significant moments in people’s lives.
As an artist, Jack’s faith also informs which messages he can communicate through his art. Over his years as a cake artist, Phillips has declined to create cakes with various messages that violate his faith, including messages that demean LGBT people, express racism, celebrate Halloween, promote marijuana use, and celebrate or support Satan. It also means that he can’t create art with messages celebrating events like same-sex weddings or gender transitions.
As a Christian, Jack believes that God creates everyone in His image with immeasurable worth and value. As a part of being created in God’s image, Jack believes that God created us male and female, and that marriage is to be between one man and one woman.
Jack serves all customers. He simply declines to create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in violation of his deeply held beliefs.
Because of his convictions and the way he operates his business, Jack has been in legal battles with the State of Colorado since 2012.
Thankfully, in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack 7-2 in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This was Jack’s first battle with the State of Colorado. But even before the ink was dry on that ruling, another legal storm was brewing that was designed to target Jack again for his beliefs.
The same day the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Jack’s first case in June 2017, Autumn Scardina, a local attorney and LGBT activist, contacted Jack’s shop to request a custom cake. What was the request? To create a cake with a blue exterior and pink interior celebrating that attorney’s transition from male to female.
The request appeared to be a setup.
The attorney used speakerphone and asked Jack’s employee to repeat herself so another person could hear. In the months following that request, Jack received many requests for cakes celebrating Satan, featuring satanic symbols, depicting sexually explicit materials, and promoting marijuana use. At least one of the satanic requests came from the same Colorado lawyer.
Jack declined all the requested cakes—including the pink and blue one— because they would have expressed messages that violate his religious beliefs.
About a month after that initial call, Jack was informed that the attorney had filed a complaint against him. Colorado held that complaint until Jack’s first Masterpiece case was decided in June 2018. But just days after the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Jack’s favor, Colorado issued a probable cause determination finding, saying there was probable cause to believe Jack had violated the law by declining to create the gender-transition cake.
That August, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit against Colorado for targeting Jack and his faith. In October, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission issued a formal complaint against Jack, and ADF filed an amended complaint. The commission sought to dismiss Jack’s lawsuit, but in January 2019, the district court found credible evidence of unequal treatment against Jack, allowing the lawsuit to proceed.
Over the next two months, evidence began to emerge once again that members of the commission held animus toward Jack and his religious beliefs.
The fact that one commissioner had called Phillips a “hater” on Twitter was already publicly known. But a Colorado state legislator disclosed that he spoke in November 2018 to a current commissioner who expressed the belief that “there is anti-religious bias on the Commission.”
ADF attorneys also uncovered statements from a 2018 public meeting in which two commissioners voiced their support for comments that a previous commissioner, Diann Rice, made in 2014 lumping Jack in with slave owners and Nazis. Those comments, which the U.S. Supreme Court sternly condemned in its ruling in favor of Phillips, had also called religious freedom “a despicable piece of rhetoric.”
In light of this evidence, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission announced in March 2019 that it would dismiss the charges against Jack Phillips, giving Jack his second victory against Colorado.
- June 2017: The same day the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, an attorney asked Jack Phillips to create a cake designed pink on the inside and blue on the outside to celebrate the attorney’s gender transition from male to female. Jack declined the request because the custom cake would have expressed messages that conflict with his religious beliefs.
- July 2017: The attorney who requested the cake filed a complaint with the state of Colorado. The state held that complaint pending the outcome of Jack’s case at the Supreme Court.
- June 2018: The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Jack in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Despite this ruling, later that month, the state of Colorado found probable cause to believe that Colorado law requires him to create the requested gender-transition cake.
- August 2018: ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Elenis) against Colorado for unjustly targeting Jack and sought a preliminary injunction pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
- October 2018: The Colorado Civil Rights Commission filed a formal complaint against Jack Phillips. ADF attorneys filed an amended complaint on Jack’s behalf.
- January 2019: Colorado filed a motion to dismiss ADF’s lawsuit, but the district judge denied that motion.
- March 2019: After new evidence emerged demonstrating Colorado’s continued hostility toward Jack Phillips and his faith, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission announced it would dismiss its charges against Jack, giving him his second victory over the State of Colorado.
Once again, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s overt hostility toward Jack and his faith became undeniable, and the commission was left with no choice but to dismiss its charges in March 2019.
“We’re pleased that the state will be dismissing its case against Jack,” said ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued on behalf of Phillips at the Supreme Court. “This is the second time the state has launched a failed effort to prosecute him. While it finally appears to be getting the message that its anti-religious hostility has no place in our country, the state’s decision to target Jack has cost him more than six-and-a-half years of his life, forcing him to spend that time tied up in legal proceedings.”
Unfortunately, this still wasn’t the end of the road for Jack. Just a few months after this second victory, the same lawyer who sued Jack in this second case decided to sue him again in a different court about the same custom cake celebrating the lawyer’s gender transition that Jack declined to create. That case is still ongoing.
In the meantime, ADF has won a landmark victory for free speech at the U.S. Supreme Court. In 303 Creative v. Elenis, ADF attorneys represented graphic artist Lorie Smith, who owns a design studio called 303 Creative in the Denver area. Lorie’s business was threatened by the same Colorado law that has been used to target Jack.
In June 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that Colorado cannot misuse its public-accommodation law to force Lorie to say things she does not believe. ADF attorneys have asked the Colorado Supreme Court to apply the 303 Creative decision in Jack’s ongoing case. [Read more about that case here.]
The bottom line
All Americans have the First Amendment right to speak and peacefully live consistently with their faith, including those who operate a business. Jack should not have to fear government punishment for his faith when he opens his cake shop for business each day.
Jack and ADF CEO, President, and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner discuss the case with Laura Ingraham: