Colorado loses bid to dismiss cake artist’s lawsuit
DENVER – A federal district court issued an order Friday that allows Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips to proceed with a lawsuit against the state for its hostility toward him and his religious beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, filed suit when the state chose to prosecute him again even after he won his case at the U.S. Supreme Court in June. The high court ruled that Colorado cannot treat Phillips differently than other cake artists who decline custom projects based on the messages they convey.
“The same agency that the Supreme Court rebuked as hostile to Jack Phillips has remained committed to treating him unequally and forcing him to express messages that violate his religious beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell, who argued before the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on Dec. 18. “Colorado is acting in bad faith and with bias toward Jack. We look forward to moving forward with this lawsuit to ensure that Jack isn’t forced to create custom cakes that express messages in conflict with his faith.”
The district court ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Elenis that evidence of unequal treatment remains. While the state “allow[s] other cake artists to decline requests to create custom cakes that express messages they deem objectionable and would not express for anyone,” Colorado treats Phillips differently. This “disparate treatment,” the court said, “reveals” the state officials’ ongoing “hostility towards Phillips, which is sufficient to establish they are pursuing the discrimination charges against Phillips in bad faith, motivated by Phillips’…religion….”
After an attorney who targeted Phillips complained to the state about Phillips’ decision not to create a cake designed pink on the inside and blue on the outside to celebrate and reflect a gender transition, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission—the same state agency that lost its case against Phillips at the Supreme Court in June—filed a formal complaint against him. The attorney who requested the gender-transition cake later asked Phillips to design a cake with satanic themes and images—a request that Phillips also declined because of what the cake would communicate.
“Jack serves all customers, and he is even happy to serve the attorney who lodged the complaint against him,” Campbell explained. “But Jack doesn’t create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with his deeply held beliefs. He can’t get a fair shake before the state commission. A commissioner set to decide the state’s new case against Jack has publicly referred to him as a ‘hater’ on Twitter, one of several indications of the commission’s ongoing bad faith toward him and his beliefs.”
ADF argues that the state is violating Phillips’ First Amendment free exercise of religion rights by continuing to treat him differently than other cake artists and by acting with hostility toward him and his faith. ADF is also arguing that the state is infringing Phillips’s free speech and due process rights, and that the commission’s adjudicative process is flawed because the same commissioners act as both accusers and adjudicators in the same case, an arrangement that the Supreme Court condemned in a 2016 decision.
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.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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