Masterpiece Cakeshop owner and devout Christian Jack Phillips is facing another bout of legal persecution after the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that he violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws for refusing to bake a cake celebrating transgenderism.
A three-judge panel determined on Thursday that Phillips’s firmly held belief that “God designed people male and female” is moot when it comes to his family business’s decision to decline to custom-create certain cakes.
The same day that the Supreme Court ruled in his favor in a similar case in 2018, Phillips’s shop was approached by transgender activist Autumn Scardina, who deliberately stated intent to “correct the errors of [Phillips’] thinking.” Scardina wanted Phillips to make a custom pink cake with blue icing to celebrate a “gender transition.” Scardina also requested a cake with “an image of Satan smoking marijuana.”
When Phillips refused because creating something celebrating transgenderism and Satan “conflicts with [his] Bible’s teachings,” which Scardina knew, Scardina sued him under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) for allegedly denying the sale based on Scardina’s “gender status.”
“Phillips works with all people and always decides whether to take a project based on what message a cake will express, not who is requesting it,” a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization representing Phillips, states.
For his belief “that a person’s gender is biologically determined,” Phillips was fined $500 by a trial court in 2021. Phillips appealed under the premise that his rejection of the cake order hinged on “firm and sincere religious beliefs and the right to be free from compelled speech that would violate those beliefs.
The appeals court, however, concluded that the cake Scardina tried to order inherently “expressed no message.” The judges conceded that “expressive conduct need not contain verbal speech or the written word to be entitled to First Amendment protection” but concluded that “not all conduct constitutes speech.”
ADF already announced its plans to appeal the court of appeals’ decision.
“Free speech is for everyone. No one should be forced to express a message that violates their core beliefs,” ADF Senior Counsel Jake Warner and Phillips’s lawyer said in a statement. “Over a decade ago, Colorado officials began targeting Jack, misusing state law to force him to say things he does not believe. Then an activist attorney continued that crusade. This cruelty must stop.”
For more than 10 years now, Phillips has endured persecution over his deeply held religious convictions related to sex and marriage.
Phillips won a partial victory on a similar issue in 2018 when the Supreme Court decided that the Colorado officials who wanted to punish the cake decorator for refusing to make a cake celebrating a homosexual marriage in 2012 displayed “a clear and impermissible hostility toward [Phillips’] sincere religious beliefs.”
The Supreme Court has an opportunity to reaffirm Christians’ rights to refuse certain services on religious grounds in 303 Creative v. Elenis, another ADF case in which a Christian artist challenges Colorado laws about discrimination, but has yet to release that decision.