Hearings began Monday in a new case against the Masterpiece Cake Shop located in suburban Denver over a transgender male suing for the owner’s refusal to celebrate his transition.
Jack Phillips, a devout Christian who runs the cake shop in Lakewood, Colorado, is a defendant in court again this week after fending off discrimination charges in a more than half-decade-long legal battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court when, based on his faith, he denied to bake a custom wedding cake for two gay men in 2012 but offered other items.
“I don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings, but I’ll sell you anything else in my shop, cookies, brownies,” Phillips told the couple, who, out of all the bakeries in the area, sought out the baker who would deny them the very specific service that compromised his faith.
The couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission arguing Phillips violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) which prohibits any business that offers services to the public from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
The controversy went national, provoking harassment campaigns and death threats against the suburban baker that ultimately cost him 40 percent of his income when Phillips stopped baking cakes following a lower court’s decision against the shop. The case inspired another against Phillips after the Supreme Court announced in 2017 it would re-examine the lower court’s ruling, which it ultimately overturned on narrow grounds.
Autumn Scardina, a transgender female-identifying attorney in the Denver area, called Phillips to demand a custom cake celebrating his gender transition after he heard the Supreme Court would consider the initial case against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Twice, Scardina had already emailed Phillips to call the baker a “bigot” and a “hypocrite” while mocking his religious beliefs in 2012 when the controversy first arose.
A 2012 email presented as evidence in court also show Scardina offered to be a plaintiff in a discriminatory case against the cakeshop in the gay couple’s absence if they chose not to move forward with litigation.
The cake shop denied Scardina’s 2017 request for a pink and blue cake after he said it was to celebrate his gender transition. Scardina responded with a new complaint picked up by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that was dismissed in 2019 by the group after Phillips filed a lawsuit against the state in federal court. Months later, Scardina chose to pursue charges of his own seeking damages, fines, and attorney fees to wreck Phillip’s finances rather than appeal the commission’s decision to drop the discrimination claim.
Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal non-profit dedicated to First Amendment cases, which also took the Masterpiece Cake Shop case to the Supreme Court in 2017, the defense has argued Phillip’s cakes constitute artistic creations of expression. Scardina’s demands for a cake celebrating his gender transition would violate Phillips’s First Amendment rights through government coercion.
In court, Scardina explained how at one point, while his discrimination claim was being processed by the state, he called the Christian cakeshop to request a custom cake that featured Satan smoking a joint, to test the store’s repeated claims he would be treated just as anyone else.
“They indicated that I was welcome back in their shop and entitled to the same treatment as every other customer that telephones or comes through its doors,” Scardina said. “I had filed the charge, I think, sometime in July. It’s now sometime in late fall. Nothing had been done as far as I was aware, and once again here they are saying ‘Sure, she’s [sic] welcome back, and come on in, and we’ll treat you just like everybody else.'”
I found it sort of offensive and wanted to see if that’s true too. So I called and spoke with who I believed to be Mr. Phillips. He answered the phone this time. I think I indicated — I asked: ‘Do you serve religious cakes?’ Because I noted in his several examples, they had nothing regarding religious cakes. Mr. Phillips indicated that he did. I asked him, ‘Well, could you prepare a religious cake for me that had’ — I think a picture of Satan smoking a joint is the religious cake I asked for.
Pursuant to his religious faith, Phillips also refuses to bake cakes in celebration of Halloween.
“I don’t create cakes for Halloween, I wouldn’t create a cake that would be anti-American or disparaging against anybody for any reason, even cakes that would disparage people who identify as LGBT,” Phillips said on NBC’s “Today” show in 2018 on his first major case in the Supreme Court over his objection to baking a gay wedding cake. “Cakes have a message and this one I can’t create.”