Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, has been sued for a third time for allegedly discriminating against a customer. Masterpiece Cakeshop became the centerpiece of national attention when, in July of 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins had gone to the bakery to have a cake prepared for their wedding celebration—at the time, same-sex marriage was not legal in Colorado, so the couple was going to Massachusetts to have their wedding. Owner Jack Phillips declined to make the cake, stating that he would not make a wedding cake for same-sex couples, citing his religious convictions, but that the couple could purchase anything else they liked.
Craig and Mullins were provided a cake from another bakery, though they filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The commission ruled in favor of the couple and ordered that Phillips must provide cakes to same-sex couples, change company policies, provide comprehensive staff training regarding public accommodations and discrimination, and provide quarterly reports for two years regarding steps he had taken to come into compliance and whether he turned away any prospective customers.
Phillips refused to comply with the state’s orders—opting instead to cease selling wedding cakes—and filed an appeal. The court of appeals upheld the commission’s decision on the grounds that despite the nature of creating a custom cake, the act was not an expression of free speech nor the free exercise of religion. Phillips then took the case to the Supreme Court, which found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had been hostile toward Phillips’s beliefs, and had not acted in a neutral way, as they were required to. The Court ruled 7-2 to reverse the decision of the CCRC. Perhaps the most egregious example of hostility that was displayed by the commission came from this statement:
“I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.”
The majority opinion of the court iterated that the commission may have been correct in its judgement, had it not been hostile to the beliefs of Phillips. In regard to the above statement from the commission, the majority opinion if the court stated:
To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere.
The court did not make any ruling regarding the larger issue of the intersection between anti-discrimination law, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.
Shortly after the decision was handed down in 2018, the CCRC brought another anti-discrimination complaint against Phillips, this time for refusing to create a “gender transition” cake for Denver attorney Autumn Scardina–who had recently transitioned. Phillips sued the state, alleging that he was being persecuted due to his beliefs. The commission and Phillips decided to drop their respective suits after it was found that the state was continuing to display hostility to Phillips by pursuing the lawsuit.
Scardina would not be placated, though. She has decided to sue Phillips in a federal district court, with a representative summarizing the case, “The dignity of all citizens in our state needs to be honored. Masterpiece Cakeshop said before the Supreme Court they would serve any baked good to members of the LGBTQ community. It was just the religious significance of it being a wedding cake. We don’t believe they’ve been honest with the public.”
My unpopular opinion is this: I firmly believe that businesses should have the ability to discriminate as much or as little as they please, for any reason. I believe that if the public doesn’t like the way a business is run, that business won’t exist for too long. Government should only be involved under very specific circumstances; housing, banking, grocers, hospitals, etc. Otherwise, businesses should be able to sell goods and services to whomever they wish.
As it is, anti-discrimination laws exist and they need to be followed; on all sides. In the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Supreme Court decided that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had blatantly and egregiously discriminated against one person’s rights in favor of another’s—a cardinal sin if you are government agency. In the second lawsuit, the state came to the conclusion that pursuing the suit would constitute further harassment of Phillips’ rights as a citizen.
Phillips beliefs are not a secret. Scardina knew, or at least had a good idea, that Phillips wouldn’t be amenable to baking a cake celebrating a gender transition. It remains to be seen how this will all play out. Both sides have valid cases under existing law. Phillips’ original “win” in the Supreme Court centered in the fact that the state had discriminated against him. Scardina’s claim remains the same as Craig and Mullins: good and services must be rendered regardless of personal opinion.
Hopefully, cases such as this become less and less of an issue as we all respect the rights and thoughts of others.