On Tuesday both Colorado and Masterpiece Cakeshop agreed to drop their ongoing litigation, ending a more than six-year-long legal battle.
Colorado Civil Rights Commission will dismiss the state action against Masterpiece. Jack Phillips, the owner, will in turn dismiss his federal case against Colorado.
“After careful consideration of the facts, both sides agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases. The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said March 5.
He added that “Equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state’s and nation’s civil rights laws.”
Each side will hence cover their own legal fees. Weiser also said the agreement does not affect the ability of a transgender person, Autumn Scardina, from pursuing a claim against Phillips.
In October the state civil rights commission had issued a formal complaint against the cake shop, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the same commission had violated Phillips' rights. The civil rights commission had prosecuted Phillips for declining to bake a cake marking a same-sex wedding ceremony on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs.
Later, Scardina requested that Phillips bake a cake celebrating a “gender transition”, which he declined, again because of his religious beliefs.
Scardina then filed a civil rights complaint when Phillips declined, charging discrimination on the basis of gender identity, a protected status under Colorado anti-discrimination law.
“I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop; I simply can’t celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs,” Phillips said. “The Supreme Court affirmed that government hostility against people of faith is unconstitutional, and that Colorado was hostile to my faith.”
Phillips had filed a lawsuit against Civil Rights Division Executive Director Aubrey Elenis. He sought $100,000 in damages. In January, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Wiley Daniel said Phillips could demonstrate that the state’s actions were damaging.
The baker said the hostility of the first case had already cost him 40 percent of his business and hindered his wedding work. However, even after the first ruling, he said that “Colorado was relentless in seeking to crush” Masterpiece for the expression of his religious beliefs.
“Today is a win for freedom,” Phillips said March 5. “I’m very grateful and looking forward to serving my customers as I always have: with love and respect.”
“The state’s demonstrated and ongoing hostility toward Jack because of his beliefs is undeniable,” said ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kirsten Waggoner, who argued on behalf of Masterpiece at the US Supreme Court.
“We hope that the state is done going along with obvious efforts to harass Jack,” added ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell. “He shouldn’t be driven out of business just because some people disagree with his religious beliefs and his desire to live consistently with them. We look forward to the day when Jack doesn’t have to fear government punishment for his faith or harassment from people who oppose his beliefs.”
Waggoner added that religious tolerance was an important aspect of the nation. She said the end of the lawsuit is a good sign for religious freedom, but expressed sorrow for the effect of the case on Phillips.
“Jack’s victory is great news for everyone. Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a diverse society like ours. They enable us to peacefully coexist with each another,” she said.
“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.”