5 years after a Supreme Court win, Christian baker Jack Phillips’ fight is far from over
Jack Phillips is entangled in another years-long case making its way through the legal system.
Five years ago, Jack Phillips had the surreal experience of learning that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in his favor.
Seven of the nine justices agreed that Colorado officials disrespected his religious beliefs about marriage when considering whether his refusal to design a same-sex wedding cake violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. The majority opinion said the officials’ words and actions amounted to unlawful religious hostility.
“When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered (Phillips’) case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
Although the Supreme Court ruling stopped short of saying that cake decoration is a form of protected speech or that anti-discrimination laws need broad religious exemptions, Phillips had still scored a significant win in the political and cultural war over how to balance LGBTQ rights and religious freedom protections.
Headlines from media organizations across the country, including the Deseret News, declared him the victor of a legal battle spanning six years.
But, as it turns out, the Christian baker’s fight to “serve everybody” but “not speak every message” that can be conveyed by a cake design was far from over.
Five years on from the Supreme Court’s ruling, Phillips remains entangled in another years-long case making its way through the legal system.
The current lawsuit originated in 2017 on the day the Supreme Court agreed to hear Phillips’ original case. A transgender woman contacted his bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, and asked for a cake celebrating her gender transition. Phillips turned down the order, since he felt that designing such a cake would force him to share a message that contradicts his religious beliefs.
The woman, Autumn Scardina, contacted the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which originally pursued a case against Phillips. But when the baker filed a federal lawsuit alleging ongoing mistreatment by Colorado officials, state lawyers and Phillips agreed to a settlement and both cases were dropped, according to The Associated Press.
The woman who ordered the gender transition cake was not part of the settlement, and she chose to continue pursuing a suit against Phillips and his bakery. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in her favor earlier this year, but, this month, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to consider Phillips’ appeal.
The Christian baker, who has already spent around 11 years fighting for his business in court, could end up spending a few more dealing with lawyers before the current lawsuit is over.
Last week, Phillips spoke with the Deseret News about his cakes, his controversies and why he hasn’t given up hope for a long-awaited resolution.
“We won all the lawsuits up to this one, and we expect to win this one,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m not a winner. I feel like these things need to be clarified and hopefully the court will do that.”
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Deseret News: How did you feel on that day five years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled in your favor?
Jack Phillips: It was a tremendous day. It was a crazy, chaotic day here at the cake shop.
I knew the Supreme Court had ruled in our favor and, from what I understood of the opinion at the time, the court had understood that, while I would serve everybody who came into our shop, I wouldn’t speak every message that people asked me for.
DN: But you ended up back in court sooner than most people realize, right?
JP: About three weeks after the Supreme Court ruling came, I was notified that the state was going to prosecute me again. That (second) case had started on the day the Supreme Court announced they were accepting my petition (in June 2017), so it was always in the back of my mind.
I knew there was the potential for that prosecution to happen, but I had hoped the first case would eliminate the second one.
DN: How do you keep going when it feels like your legal battles will never end?
JP: At the point in the first case when we were deciding whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, I remember thinking that if we don’t appeal, we can’t be heard. But if we do appeal, the worst that can happen is that the court would deny the appeal and we’d officially not be heard.
After talking with my attorneys, though, I understood better the ramifications of going to the Supreme Court. It turned out that the worst thing would actually have been for my case to be granted and then for me to lose.
I realized how important my case was not just for me and my cakes and my cake shop, but for every American, for every American’s right to decide which messages they want to express and right to live and work according to their conscience without fear of persecution from the government.
I’ve realized that if I lose, it will be very bad for all Americans.
DN: How has your life changed since your case was before the Supreme Court?
JP: My faith has grown stronger and my family has grown closer. I understand more of what our government’s rights and limitations should be.
DN: What would you say to people who want you to lose?
JP: At Masterpiece Cakeshop, we serve everybody. That’s why I opened a retail shop 30 years ago. My goal was to create custom cakes and use my cakes as a canvas to help people celebrate the special events in their life.
I love serving everyone, but I can’t create or express every message.
Whether or not you agree with my message choices, I think every American should be on board with the fact that the government should not force me to speak a message I don’t agree with or tell me that I can’t speak a message I want to share.
Whether you agree with my stance or not, everybody should agree that the government shouldn’t be able to force creative professionals in America to speak messages they don’t want to speak.
DN: After all these years in court, how are you feeling about the future?
JP: At the Alliance Defending Freedom, all the attorneys are the best and most passionate about these issues you can find.
I’m sure the arguments they make will be as clear as they can be and that we will prevail, hopefully this time so that we don’t have to appeal to the next level. I hope the court will respect free speech rights and exonerate us.