There are large refrigerators in the back of Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop that used to be filled with wedding cakes.
With wedding season just around the corner, Jack can’t help but notice how different his cake shop feels now that he’s been forced by the Colorado government to stop designing wedding cakes.
“During the springtime, summertime, [the refrigerators would] be full of wedding cakes. There would be people, a lot of hustle and bustle around,” he recently explained. Jack describes the loss of business due to an ACLU lawsuit against him as “devastating.”
Wedding cakes made up about 40 percent of Jack’s business before he declined to design a cake for a same-sex marriage and saw his life turned upside down. Although Jack offered to sell the same-sex couple anything else in his shop or design a cake for a different event, they filed a complaint against him with the government.
It certainly wasn’t the first time that Jack had declined a request for a cake. While Jack serves everyone, he declines to express messages or celebrate events that violate his deeply held beliefs. Over the course of 20-plus years, he has declined to design cakes that celebrate divorce and Halloween, have anti-American and adult themes, or denigrate people in any way.
But this was the first time that anyone had ever sought to force him to create a message that conflicted with his conscience.
As a result of the complaint, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered Jack to “reeducate his staff” and file quarterly compliance reports with the government. The Commission also said that he must design cakes celebrating same-sex marriages if he continued to design them for opposite-sex marriages.
But Jack’s faith teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. He can’t violate his conscience and use his God-given artistic abilities to celebrate an event that contradicts that belief.
So for now, there are no wedding cakes in the refrigerators. But all that could change if the United States Supreme Court rules in Jack’s favor.
In December, ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner presented oral arguments before the Supreme Court justices on Jack’s behalf.
The decision in Jack’s case could set important legal precedent. Particularly since the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling in Obergefell in June 2015, people have wondered what will become of those in our society who believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.
As Jack recently shared in an article he wrote for The Washington Post, “More than anything. . . I wonder if there will be a place in the community for me when the dust settles. Will this big, diverse country of ours still have room for me and the millions of others who share my beliefs about marriage?”
It is our prayer that the Supreme Court affirms Jack’s freedom to live and work consistently with his deeply held beliefs. After all, creative professionals who serve all people like Jack does should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment. To reject that freedom would forfeit the enduring promise of the First Amendment.
That’s why a win for Jack would truly be a win for every American who values freedom.
A victory at the Supreme Court would also restore some of what Jack and his family have lost due to the lawsuit against him. For example, he could return to creating the wedding art that he loves so much. That extra boost could help preserve his business and everything Jack and his wife have worked for over the years. Maybe he could even hire some people back—before the lawsuit, Jack had 10 people on his payroll; now he has four, including himself.
But the reality is that the financial hit hasn’t been the worst of it for Jack and his family.
As Jack shared, “My life and the lives of my family have been threatened repeatedly. Last year, one man swore that he’d shoot me in the head, and another threatened to kill me with a machete — all for declining to create a wedding cake. The threats and harassment have been so bad at times that my wife has been too afraid to set foot in our shop.”
Bullying, threats, marginalization. . . is that what the future holds for those of us in America who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman—a view that has been with us for millennia?
“I just hope now that the justices will look at this case and allow creative professionals like myself to create freely according to their conscience. And I hope that nobody else has to go through what my family and I have gone through for the last five years,” says Jack. “It’s not over yet.”
The Supreme Court’s decision will tell us a lot about what we can expect in the coming years, but no matter what the court decides, we can all take a lesson from Jack about what it means to be calm in the midst of the storm. The courage, kindness, and faith that Jack has displayed—even with his livelihood at stake and his life threatened—is what this world needs.
Lorie Smith could use some clarity—as could creative professionals across the country.
The court ruled 2-1 that the state of Colorado can force Lorie to design and publish websites promoting messages that violate her religious beliefs.