DENVER, Co. — The Colorado attorney general’s office announced on Tuesday that it will drop its action against Christian bakery owner Jack Phillips, and Phillips has consequently agreed to dismiss his lawsuit against the entity. The State had initially concluded that a complainant had standing against Phillips after he declined to make a cake for a “gender transition” celebration. Phillips sued in contending that the State was continuing to engage in unlawful anti-religious hostility.
“Under the terms of the agreement, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission will voluntarily dismiss the state administrative action against Masterpiece Cakeshop and its owner, Jack Phillips, and Mr. Phillips will voluntarily dismiss his federal court case against the State,” reads a press release from Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which had represented Phillips in court, said that while the legal organization doesn’t know why the State decided to drop its case against the Christian baker, it has been made aware of impermissible remarks by those in the commission that can be deemed hostile toward religion.
“We don’t know for sure why the State decided to do this, but we do know that over the course of a the last few weeks we have found a lot of additional evidence showing the State’s anti-religious hostility,” said Senior Counsel Jim Campbell in a video posted to social media this afternoon.
“We’re finding more and more evidence of the State’s hostility toward Jack’s faith and to religious freedom in general, and as a result of that, we were able to press forward, and for whatever reason, the State decided to back down.”
As previously reported, attorneys ADF filed a federal lawsuit in August on behalf of Phillips, contending that the division had “doubled down” its religious hostility toward the Christian baker. Phillips’ case surrounding a separate matter involving a same-sex celebration made it to the Supreme Court last year and was the subject of national headlines.
While the high court did not reach whether or not Phillips may decline to fulfill orders that conflict with his faith, it did find that the State had engaged in hostility against the baker, when it should have handled the matter with neutrality toward religion.
“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. Phillips was entitled to a neutral decision-maker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided,” then Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.
ADF filed suit after the Colorado Civil Rights Division approved a second discrimination claim—this time from an attorney who requested a cake for a “gender transition” celebration on the very day that it was announced that the U.S. Supreme Court would hear Phillips’ case surrounding his abstention of an order for a same-sex celebration.
According to the determination letter submitted to Phillips by the division, in 2017, a man who identifies as a woman called Masterpiece Cakeshop and stated that he wanted to place an order for a custom cake. Debi Phillips, the wife of Jack Phillips, took the call and asked the man about the desired size of the cake, the requested flavors, and the date by which it would be needed.
“The complainant responded that [he] would need the cake … to serve 6-8 people, and wanted the cake to have a blue exterior and a pink interior,” the letter read. “The complainant asserts that [he] ‘explained that the design was a reflection of the fact that [he] transitioned from male to female and that [he] had come out as transgender on [his] birthday.’”
Realizing that the order would entail the creation of a custom cake reflecting the celebration of a so-called gender transition, Phillips advised that the business could not be of assistance. Her husband affirmed that the request could not be fulfilled.
“[T]he respondent will not make cakes that address the topic of sex changes or gender transitions,” the determination letter outlined. “He contends that he will not support a message that ‘promotes the idea that a person’s sex is anything other than an immutable God-given biological reality.’”
The Colorado Civil Rights Division consequently concluded that the complainant had standing for a claim of unlawful discrimination.
“The evidence thus demonstrates that the refusal to provide service to the complainant was based on the complainant’s transgender status,” the letter read. “A claim of discriminatory denial of full and equal enjoyment of a place of public accommodation has been established.”
Phillips reiterated in his legal challenge against the State that he should not be forced to make cakes that violate his convictions, and that it is not the person ordering the cake, but the message it conveys and/or the event involved, that is the issue.
As previously reported, Phillips won’t make custom cakes for any customer if the message is problematic. He has turned down cake orders demeaning homosexuals, and similarly refused an order celebrating a divorce. He will also not make cakes that would be racist, use profanity, promote drugs or alcohol, support abortion or euthanasia, or celebrate Satanism or Halloween.
“Phillips’s decisions on whether to create a custom cake do not focus on who the customer is, but instead depend on what the custom cake will express or celebrate,” the lawsuit explained. “Neither Phillips nor any staff member at Masterpiece Cakeshop asks customers about their protected characteristics, such as their race, faith, sexual orientation, or gender identity, because those characteristics do not matter to Phillips in deciding whether to accept a custom-cake order.”
“Phillips will not create such cakes no matter who requests them,” it stated. “Phillips believes that he would violate God’s commands if he were to create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with his religious beliefs.”
In January, Judge Wiley Daniel rejected a motion from the State to dismiss Phillips’ lawsuit, noting that as the government failed to delineate the difference between turning away transgender people and not making a “gender-transition” celebration cake for any person under any circumstances, the evidence supports Phillips’ claim that the government acted in bad faith against him.
“Scardina did not request just a blue and pink cake. … Scardina explicitly, and repeatedly, requested a blue and pink birthday cake to celebrate [his] transition, and Phillips would have declined to make such a cake for anyone, regardless of the ‘customer’s protected characteristics,’” he wrote.
“[N]either the division, in its probable cause determination, nor the commission, in its formal complaint, made the distinction urged now by Defendants. This omission is especially glaring because [the Supreme Court] denounced the division’s and the commission’s unequal treatment of Phillips just before the division and the commission began new proceedings against Phillips,” Daniel stated.
“The decision to pursue the discrimination charge occurred after [the Supreme Court ruling], and this decision by Director Elenis and the defendant commissioners supports the existence of bad faith.”
While it is not known if the State dropped its action against Phillips in light of the ruling, Phillips said that he is pleased with the outcome.
“I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop; I simply can’t celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs. The Supreme Court affirmed that government hostility against people of faith is unconstitutional, and that Colorado was hostile to my faith,” he reiterated in a statement.
“Today is a win for freedom. I’m very grateful and looking forward to serving my customers as I always have: with love and respect.”