Masterpiece Cakeshop (Take 3): Time for Supreme Court to Provide Specific Guidance

June 18, 2019 Updated: June 18, 2019


Jack Phillips, a Christian baker and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, is being sued again over claims of discrimination.

The complaint was filed by attorney Autumn Scardina, a transgender woman in Denver, who, in 2017, asked Phillips/Masterpiece to create a pink cake with blue frosting for her birthday celebration, to reflect her status as a transgender female.

According to Scardina’s complaint, when she initially called Masterpiece Cakeshop, she was told by an employee that the company made birthday cakes and that a pink cake with blue frosting wasn’t a problem. However, once she informed Masterpiece that she was transgender and that the requested design had “personal significance for her because it reflects her status as a transgender female,” she was advised that the company didn’t make cakes for “sex changes.”

Scardina’s point that the cake was for her “birthday celebration,” not a “sex change,” didn’t persuade the company to change its position.

As a result, Scardina alleges that Phillips discriminated against the LGBT community by refusing to bake a cake with a blue exterior and a pink interior despite his repeated assurances that he would be “happy” to sell birthday cakes to the public, including the LGBT community.

This isn’t Scardina’s first go-around with Phillips or Masterpiece. In 2017, Scardina filed a discrimination charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found in 2018 that Masterpiece violated the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to make the pink and blue cake.

In response to Scardina’s complaint to the commission, in 2018, Phillips filed suit in a Denver federal court. According to The Associated Press, Phillips’s lawsuit alleged that the commission treated him with hostility because of his Christian faith and that “Colorado violated his First Amendment right to practice his faith and his 14th Amendment right to equal protection.”

Per the AP, the lawsuit further alleged that Phillips “believes as a matter of religious conviction 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 March 2019, the commission, Masterpiece, and Phillips entered into a settlement whereby Masterpiece and Phillips agreed to voluntarily dismiss the federal lawsuit and the commission agreed to dismiss its action against Masterpiece and Phillips.

Scardina decided to continue to pursue her case in the district court. Her current lawsuit appears to hinge on the allegation that Phillips/Masterpiece discriminated against her because she is transgender and that their continued promises to happily sell birthday cakes to the public, including the LGBT community, were false.

While these allegations are serious and should be addressed, Scardina’s argument could face one or more legal hurdles.

First, according to Fox News, citing Jim Campbell, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, “This latest attack by Scardina looks like yet another desperate attempt to harass cake artist Jack Phillips. And it stumbles over the one detail that matters most: Jack serves everyone; he just cannot express all messages through his custom cakes.”

In other words, there was nothing false about what Phillips said and his position has been consistent throughout. Specifically, Phillips is happy to serve everyone, but doesn’t create cakes that express messages or celebrate events that conflict with his religious beliefs, such as in Scardina’s case.

Second, Phillips’s refusal to create certain types of cakes hasn’t been limited to LGBT-related issues. According to a January 2019 press release by the Alliance Defending Freedom, Phillips has refused to create a variety of cakes because of their message: “Over his years as a cake artist, Phillips has declined to create cakes with various messages that violate his faith, including messages that demean LGBT people, express racism, celebrate Halloween, promote marijuana use, and celebrate or support Satan.”

When the Supreme Court decided the first Masterpiece Cakeshop case in favor of Phillips, the court’s ruling was quite narrow and focused more on the actions of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which were deemed hostile toward Phillips’s religion/religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, the decision didn’t answer the more pressing question, which was whether a business owner’s religious objections to “sex-changes,” same-sex marriage, or other practices should be exempted from nondiscrimination laws, thereby permitting the owner to refuse service. Stated another way, should religious beliefs allow a person to refuse service to certain customers based on these sincerely held religious beliefs?

This is a very difficult issue given the various and competing interests that are involved. However, this is the third legal battle for this baker, and it’s time for the Supreme Court to provide some much-needed guidance on this difficult issue if it is called upon to do so.

Given the potentially far-reaching impacts and the endless number of possible scenarios, the Supreme Court’s help is desperately needed.

Elad Hakim is a writer, commentator, and attorney. His articles have been published in The Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller, The Federalist, The Western Journal, American Thinker, and other online publications.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.