Free to Believe

Jack Phillips

Masterpiece Cakes: Lakewood, Colorado

In August 2012, Masterpiece Cakes owner, Jack Phillips turned down a same-sex wedding. According to news reports, the couple shouted profanity, offered a choice gesture, and stormed out of the store. Later that day, the couple tried to smear the local businessman on Facebook.  Undeterred, Phillips told reporters "We would close down that bakery before we closed our beliefs."  Since the incident, Masterpiece Cakes dealt with picket lines, petitions, protestors, and—to the owners' surprise—a huge spike in sales. Positive feedback, he told the Denver Westword, outweighs the negative "100 to one."  In addition to doubling orders, Jack says that people are calling or dropping by the shop just to show their encouragement.  "I'm not going to change my business because of a petition," Jack told Fox News.  "I'm just going to do the best I can to honor Jesus Christ."  

Although Phillips explained that he drew the line at same-sex weddings, he made it clear that he's happy to serve those who identify as homosexual.  "If gays come in and want to order birthday cakes or any cakes for any occasion, graduations, or whatever, I have no prejudice against that whatsoever.  It's just the wedding cake—not the people, not their lifestyle."  Unfortunately, even that didn't stop the threats; some activists are advocating violence against the shop. 

In response, homosexual couple David Mullins and Charlie Craig have recruited the state attorney general to treat Phillips like a common criminal and initiated a formal complaint ordering Phillips to "cease and desist."  If Jack refused, he could faces fines and up to a year in jail for each time he refused to participate in a same-sex ceremony.   

"At its heart," said the Phillips' attorney, "this is a case about conscience.  I don't think we should heighten one person's beliefs over and above another person's beliefs."  Ironically, Colorado's constitution defines marriage the same way Jack does, but its anti-discrimination laws stubbornly refuse to offer religious protections for businesses.  If Jack were convicted, "It would force him to choose between his conscience and a paycheck," his lawyer explained.  "I just think that's an intolerable choice."  

As the owner of Masterpiece Cakes, Jack Phillips is used to making batter.  What he's not used to is being battered for his beliefs.  Unfortunately for Jack, the two now go hand in hand under a ruling many would argue is its own masterpiece of religious intolerance.  The case had been brewing since July 2012, when two homosexuals stormed out of Phillips's shop, irate that Jack wouldn't make a cake for their upcoming wedding.  Despite Jack's polite decline and an offer to sell them pastries for "any other occasion," Charlie Craig and David Mullins left the bakery determined to make an example out of the Christian owners.  Hours later, the threatening phone calls started—followed by death threats, boycotts, protests outside the shop, and eventually, a lawsuit.  For the 40-year-old business, a fixture of the Denver community for over a generation, it was a defining moment.  "My decision not to participate in the gay weddings is not motivated by politics," he explained, "or hatred of gays, though I've been accused of [that].  My decision is based solely on a desire to live my life in obedience to God and His word." 

In December 2013, Colorado Judge Robert Spencer ruled that Phillips must surrender his beliefs as the price of doing business in a politically correct market.  "Conceptually," Spencer wrote, "[Jack Phillips's] refusal to serve a same-sex couple due to religious objection to same-sex weddings is no different from refusing to serve a biracial couple because of religious objection to biracial marriage." 

"I'm a huge supporter of gay rights, gay weddings, gay marriage," said Denver talk show host Peter Boyles after the decision, "but these guys are wrong and Masterpiece Cakes is right.  [Jack] doesn't say, 'You can't come in here and buy;' he says, 'I'm not going to make you a cake of two men getting married.'  As much as I support two men getting married, I support his right to say no." 

After a two-year tug-of-war with the state's Civil Rights Commission, Phillips was ordered on May 30, 2014 to bake cakes for same-sex couples regardless of his Christian beliefs.  "I can believe anything I want," said Commissioner Raju Jaram, "but if I'm going to do business here, I'd ought to not discriminate against people."

With help from Alliance Defending Freedom, Phillips and his family decided to fight Colorado's order that he check his religious beliefs at the door of his business and participate in the court-created same-sex marriages Christianity rejects.  "Americans should not be forced by the government—or by another citizen—to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree," said attorney Nicholle Martin.  "This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it's about the message the cake communicates.  Just as Jack doesn't create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn't create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order."  The case headed to the Colorado Court of Appeals where Jack and ADF balttled for the religious freedoms the Supreme Court had recently upheld for companies like Hobby Lobby.  "If a couple were to come in and ask me to do an erotic cake for a wedding, I would refuse to do that as well.  These are my personal standards taken from Jesus Christ and the Bible." 

In January 2015, reports surfaced that a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was caught on tape calling Phillips a "Nazi" for politely turning down a same-sex wedding order.  Diann Rice, part of the board who is deciding Jack's fate, was briefly on the hot seat when audio of her July comments leaked to the press, in which she said the "freedom of religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust... [T]o me, it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use..."  Less despicable, most will say, than Rice's own rhetoric, which wrongly vilifies the majority of Americans who agree with Jack's view. 

Phillips' attorneys at ADF submitted the file to the Colorado Court of Appeals, hoping to use what it sees as "an alarming bias and animus toward Phillips's religious beliefs" to reverse Phillips' sentence.  It's bad enough that Phillips is being forced by the government "to promote ideas with which he disagrees.  But it's worse," his lawyer, Nicolle Miller, points out, "when he's forced to do so by... officials who... justify coercing the speech of a private citizen by citing their own hostility to religion." A hearing in Phillips’ appeal was held on July 7, 2015. 

Photo credit: Lindsay Pierce/Denver Post via Getty Images