Wedding cake, controversy and faith: Colorado baker’s book recounts years-long legal fight
Cake artist Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. / Alliance Defending Freedom.
By Kevin J. Jones
Denver, Colo., Jun 10, 2021 / 03:01 am (CNA).
Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker whose decision not to bake cakes for same-sex weddings ended up taking him before the US Supreme Court, has told his story in a book about his profession, his Christian faith, and his belief that religious freedom benefits everyone.
“My canvas is a cake. I hope to create messages that help people celebrate different events,” he said, explaining that he and his wife discussed their design standards in light of their Christian faith at the very beginning of the cakeshop.
“In our case, we drew our lines in the sand way back before we opened in 1993 about which cakes we could create and which cakes we could not create, because of their messages. We can’t cross those (lines),” he told CNA May 28. “We serve everybody, we just can’t create every cake.”
Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Denver suburb of Lakewood. In 2018, with support from the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, he won a six-year legal battle in the U.S. Supreme Court after he faced legal action for declining to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex couple’s union.
Despite continuing to be a focus of controversy and legal action, Phillips is steadfast.
“We drew our lines in the sand knowing that not crossing them might cause these problems. I was willing to lose my bakery,” Phillips said. “I would tell people your lines have to be worth it. I can’t celebrate a view of marriage that goes against my faith, and if friends and relatives disagree with that, my relationship with Christ is more important.”
He recounts his story in a new Salem Press book, The Cost of My Faith: How a Decision in My Cake Shop Took Me to the Supreme Court.
Phillips initially thought he could write a book to tell his story to his children and grandchildren. He also realized he had a platform to make his case that “all Americans should be free to live and work according to their conscience without fear of punishment from the government.”
“If this can happen in a small place like this, it can happen anywhere,” he said. “Every American needs to be prepared.”
“It’s been quite a ride,” Phillips recounted. “The first controversy happened in July 2012. Two men walked into my cake shop and asked me to create a wedding cake to celebrate a marriage. This marriage was different than my biblical view of marriage, and so I was forced to decline to create that cake and that message because of my Christian beliefs.”
“They swore at me, the flipped me off, they stormed out of my shop and filed a lawsuit,” said Phillips. “I was pretty stunned at that.”
He said he’d hoped for a longer conversation than that 20 second interaction. Phillips said he would sell birthday cakes, shower cakes, cookies, and brownies, “but I can’t create a cake for a same-sex wedding.”
Same-sex marriages were not recognized as legal unions in Colorado at the time. Nonetheless, the couple filed an anti-discrimination complaint under state law, claiming they faced discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled against the baker. They required Phillips to change his policy, to make wedding cakes for every customer, and to avoid personal participation in wedding cake design.
“If somebody wanted a cake that was adult themed or even pornographic I would have to do it or create it,” he said. “It was an easy decision to make, but the ramifications were that we had to give up our lucrative wedding business.”
Phillips and his wife had decided never to make cakes that celebrated Halloween, that were “anti-American or racist”, or “insulted other people, including people who identify as LGBT.”
“We knew even way back then we couldn’t bake cakes that celebrated same-sex marriages, even though in ‘91 or ‘92 that wasn’t anybody’s target,” he said.
“We drew those lines in the sand. We knew we couldn’t cross them,” he told CNA. “That’s what I would say to all Americans: they should know where their lines are, and know how to fight for them, know that they have to be worth it first. And Jesus Christ is (worth it), and our relationship with him.”
The Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision did side with Phillips, but it did not rule on the free speech claims or the claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Rather, it found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission proceedings against the baker “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.”
Phillips’ legal fights are not over. He is back in court after Autumn Scardina, an attorney who identifies as a transgender woman, asked that he bake a birthday cake with different colors to honor a gender transition. When he declined, the attorney filed a legal complaint alleging discrimination.
When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission accepted Scardina’s complaint in June 2018, Phillips then countersued Colorado. He claimed that he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs. The discovery phase of the case found evidence the state was displaying “anti-religious hostility.” The case before the commission was dropped in March 2019 in an agreement between Phillips and the State of Colorado that left open the possibility of a lawsuit from Scardina.
If the court rules unfavorably, Phillips and his legal team are prepared to appeal.
“If they do rule for us or if the case is dismissed, I was promised face-to-face by the person suing that I would be faced with another cake decision the very next day and we’d start all over again,” Phillips told CNA.
“We have to be prepared for a longer fight,” he said, voicing gratitude for the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group that is assisting in his case.
Jonathan Scruggs, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom working on Phillips’ case, said other creative professionals who work in the wedding business have faced struggles with similar laws, including calligraphers, photographers, and filmmakers.
“Jack has really set the standard or for how to interact in the public square and how to do so respectfully and peacefully,” he told CNA. Scruggs said it was “a shame” that the laws are being used as a “cancel culture” that targets people.
“In the current situation, this attorney called up Jack and asked for a cake to celebrate Satan. That wasn’t an out-of-the-blue request,” Scruggs said. “That is an unfortunate thing. I think in our pluralistic society, we need to learn how to disagree respectfully, and Jack has set the pattern for how to do that. We can disagree and still treat each other with grace.”
CNA sought comment from Scardina’s attorney, Paula Greisen, but did not receive a response by deadline. Greisen sits on the board of OneColorado, an LGBT advocacy group that has helped push for social, political, and legal changes in Colorado.
John McHugh, another attorney for Scardina, previously said it does not matter whether his client asked for a sex-change cake or a birthday cake.
“What matters is they refused to make her a cake based on her identity,” he said in March, according to the Associated Press.
For his part, Phillips has drawn support from Mike Jones, a gay man who supports his stand and testified on his behalf in court.
“These rights that we all hold dear, the freedom to exercise our religion, our free speech rights, these are freedoms we all value and cherish,” said Phillips. “Without those valuable freedoms, we lose all of them.”
Phillips said these freedoms are spiritually important for his growth as a person.
“I think those freedoms help for a better society,” he said. “We’re even fighting for those freedoms for the people who are suing me. I’m sure If those freedoms were gone, they would miss them and wish they hadn’t been involved in the fight to tear them down.”
He also reflected on God’s role in his life.
“God has been faithful to us,” he said. “I know that God has used these experiences to strengthen us, because my heart is fully committed to him.” Drawing on 2 Chronicles 16:9, Phillips said he believes that God is “looking for anyone whose heart is fully committed to him, to strengthen him and to show his strength through him.”