Phillips was first sued in 2012 when he declined to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. That couple brought a claim against Phillips under a Colorado anti-discrimination statute that claims to prohibit discrimination based on several grounds including “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The Colorado Civil Rights Commission took action against Phillips in that case which went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In 2018, the High Court rightly found that the Commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.” One of the commissioners went so far as to make statements comparing Phillips’ religious beliefs to those of Nazi Germany and American slaveholders.
Soon after the ruling in 2018, the Commission went after Phillips again for not creating a cake to celebrate a gender transition. The individual requesting that cake, Autumn Scardina, repeatedly expressed disdain for Phillips’ beliefs, and asked for cakes that would intentionally lead to refusals from Phillips. One of the cake designs was of Satan smoking a joint, which Phillips also declined to create. The Colorado agency eventually dismissed this second action in 2019 when Phillips filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Colorado for targeting him because of his religious values.
This did not stop Scardina, an attorney and LGBT activist, from continuing to target Phillips’ religious beliefs and artistic expression, as another lawsuit was filed in Colorado state court in 2019. The first two levels of Colorado courts have ruled against Phillips in this lawsuit. Siding with Scardina, the courts determined that Phillips had not been targeted by Scardina, but that Phillips had targeted Scardina on the basis of “gender identity.” The court overlooked the fact that Phillips offered Scardina a pre-made pink and blue cake that was not custom-designed specifically to celebrate gender transition. Phillips also offered Scardina a settlement more than the fine assessed for violating the Colorado statute, but was refused.
The same Colorado anti-discrimination law is at issue in the 303 Creative v. Elenis case that came before the United States Supreme Court in December. Lorie Smith is a Christian and the owner of 303 Creative and uses her gifts, skills, and talents to design websites and provide other services to clients. Like Jack Phillips, Lorie also wants to promote messages that align with her religious beliefs and does not want to be forced by the government to express messages that conflict with those beliefs.
Attempts by some government officials and others to put Jack, Lorie, and other Christian businesspeople who operate according to their sincerely held religious beliefs in the category of Nazis and slave owners is completely inappropriate and harmful. The accommodations that Jack and Lorie have offered to people who are seeking their services but whose requests run counter to their religious beliefs show their compassion and desire to serve all. Whether designing a cake or a website, all American businesspeople should be protected by the First Amendment and, as such, they should retain the right to stand for Biblical values in the products they create and the messages they speak.