No one could blame you for thinking you’ve read this story before: Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips is in court defending his right to operate his business according to his Christian faith.
That’s because this is Phillips’ third court battle in the past seven years. He has already won twice, including once at the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, facing a third attack, he is more than ready to be done with courtrooms.
“I hope this will be the end of my legal battles and that I can return to my quiet life as a cake artist,” Phillips told members of the media last Thursday following a hearing in a Colorado District Court.
Phillips and his attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom were in court asking a judge to dismiss the claim of activist attorney Autumn Scardina, who is suing Phillips for more than $100,000 because he declined to create a custom cake to celebrate Scardina’s gender transition from male to female.
“I love creating custom cakes for all people,” Phillips said. “What I can’t do is create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with my religious beliefs. And that should be OK because a truly tolerant society tolerates different convictions. The First Amendment protects the peaceful exercise of my beliefs, and it protects my choice of what not to express and what not to celebrate.”
Scardina’s cake request was “clearly a setup right from the outset,” said Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of ADF’s U.S. legal division. “All the way back in 2012, when the first case began, Scardina sent Jack harassing emails attacking his faith, calling him a bigot and a hypocrite.”
That first case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, ended with a 7-2 decision in Phillips’ favor at the U.S. Supreme Court. The court rebuked Colorado officials for their “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Phillips’ religious beliefs.
“When the Supreme Court ruled in my favor, I thought I was vindicated,” Phillips said. “I hoped that I could return to being just a cake artist.”
But just a few weeks later, the Civil Rights Commission came after Phillips again, this time after he declined to create a custom cake celebrating the gender transition of Autumn Scardina.
Phillips fought back, filing a federal lawsuit against the state. The commission backed down and dismissed the case.
But Scardina wasn’t done. Instead of objecting to or appealing the commission’s decision to dismiss the case, Scardina opted to start all over, filing suit against Phillips in state court.
That action alone should disqualify the suit, say ADF attorneys. In their motion to dismiss, they point out: “If someone could seek relief from the Commission, participate in a formal hearing, receive an adverse final judgment, refuse to object, refuse to appeal, and then start over elsewhere, the Commission would become merely advisory and its closure orders [would become] invitations for needless litigation.”
ADF attorney Jake Warner, who represented Phillips in court Thursday, said afterward that the judge seemed to understand the unfairness of litigating a lawsuit through a state commission, losing and then trying to start all over again in a different court. “The court indicated that it would release a decision later this month,” Warner said. “We’re hopeful that when the order comes out later this month, that discrimination claim will be dismissed.”