Baker in Spotlight Over Same-Sex Wedding Cake Sues Colorado State

By Cathy Zhang
Cathy Zhang
Cathy Zhang
August 16, 2018 Updated: August 16, 2018

A Colorado baker who won a Supreme Court case over his refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple is suing the state after it launched another case against him for declining to create a cake for a transgender woman.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in the city of Lakewood, has accused Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission of violating his constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of religion, equal protection, and due process, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver on Aug. 14.

The complaint says that the state “has been on a crusade to crush … Phillips because its officials despise what he believes and how he practices his faith.”

“This lawsuit is necessary to stop Colorado’s continuing persecution of Phillips.”

Governor John Hickenlooper and Cynthia Coffman, the state attorney general, are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Supreme Court Win

In early June, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission was affected by an anti-religious bias in reaching its decision against Phillips for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012 due to his Christian beliefs. The court held that this violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment.

“The commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion on the case.

Kennedy stated that the commission was required under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause to “proceed in a manner neutral toward and tolerant of Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

The Supreme Court, however, did not rule on whether Phillips’s actions were in violation of Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws.

Present Lawsuit

In June 26, 2017, the same day the Supreme Court announced it would hear Phillips’ case, a Denver attorney Autumn Scardina called Phillip’s shop to order a cake with a blue exterior and pink interior “to celebrate [the seventh anniversary of her] transition from male to female,” court documents say. Phillips declined the order on religious grounds.

Scardina filed a complaint against Phillips with the Civil Rights Division, who ruled in her favor on June 28.

The director of the state’s Civil Rights Division, Aubrey Elenis, ruled that Phillips discriminated against Scardina.

“The evidence thus demonstrates that the refusal to provide service to [Scardina] was based on [her] transgender status,” Elenis wrote in a probable cause determination.

The finding by Elenis ordered both sides to resolve the issue through “compulsory mediation,” the document said.

The present lawsuit says that Phillips “serves all people but will not create cakes that express messages or celebrate events contrary to his religious beliefs.”

It says that Phillips declined to create the cake for Scardina because “it would have celebrated messages contrary to his religious belief that sex—the status of being male or female—is given by God, is biologically determined, is not determined by perceptions or feelings, and cannot be chosen or changed.”

In the past year, Phillips has declined several other custom-made cake orders because the messages violated his faith, including one cake celebrating Satan, the document said. He believes many of those were set-ups designed to trigger discrimination complaints.

The lawsuit says that Phillips “reasonably fears that discrimination charges will continue to be filed against him and that he will continue to face punishment from biased state officials,” threatening his future as a cake artist.

“It is now clear that Colorado will not rest until Phillips either closes Masterpiece Cakeshop or agrees to violate his religious beliefs. The state’s continuing efforts to target Phillips do not just violate the Constitution; they cross the line into bad faith.”

Phillips seeks permanent injunctions against the state from taking any enforcement action against him, as well as $100,000 in punitive damages against Elenis “for her unconstitutional actions,” according to the lawsuit.

Through a spokeswoman, the civil rights commission declined to comment on Phillips’ lawsuit.

Scardina did not immediately return a phone message left by Reuters at her law office.

Reuters contributed to this report.


Cathy Zhang