Jack Phillips, a Colorado native and cake artist, opened Masterpiece Cakeshop in 1993 and has joyfully served the community of Lakewood, Colorado for the last 23 years. In his years of business, Jack has been a part of major milestone events for many in the community. He’s watched families grow from young couples requesting wedding cakes to parents requesting graduation cakes for their children.
Masterpiece Cakeshop is also a family business. Among his other employees, one of Jack’s sisters decorates cakes at the bakery, another sister volunteers to keep the shop clean, and his elderly mother takes care of accounting needs a few hours each week.
As a Christian, Jack knows that God can work as He chooses, including using small bakeries like Masterpiece Cakeshop to do His work. “[God] has chosen this bakery to do a lot of different things that we had never planned and that we would never want to stop,” he said. Jack’s faith motivates how he operates his business, but he would one day find out that the State of Colorado could force him to strip every ounce of his faith out of his business.
In July 2012, two men came into Jack’s bakery requesting a wedding cake for their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting only a few seconds, Jack declined the request, saying he could not create cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies. Jack offered to make the couple any other type of baked good or sell them a pre-made cake, but, because of his faith, he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex wedding ceremony.
Infuriated, the two men stormed out of the store. Shortly after, Jack started to receive phone calls from people threatening and harassing him because of his decision to not use his artistic talents to make a cake celebrating the couple’s same-sex marriage. Instead of responding in anger, Jack saw the calls as an invitation to prayer: “[The phone calls] give me an opportunity to pray for people I wouldn’t know.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys and ADF allied attorneys came to Jack’s defense when the couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for sexual orientation discrimination. Even after explaining to the commission that it wasn’t the people Jack objected to, it was the message the cake would send about marriage, an administrative law judge ruled against Jack in December 2013, saying that designing and creating cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies are not speech protected by the First Amendment. The commission also ordered Jack and his staff to create cakes for same-sex wedding celebrations, go through a “re-education” program, implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years to show that Jack has completely eliminated his religious beliefs form his business.
After appealing the commission’s order to the Colorado Court of Appeals, the court ultimately upheld the commission’s decision in August 2015. ADF attorneys and allied attorneys then petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to take up Jack’s case and are waiting on its decision whether to hear the appeal.
Through all of this, Jack continues to trust in God’s plan for his life and for the future of Masterpiece Cakeshop. “I can trust Him and rely that God is doing what he’s going to do. And if He’s chosen us to be a part of that, that’s quite an honor.”
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Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
What's at stake
- The freedom to operate a business according to your religious beliefs
- The freedom to express yourself artistically without endorsing a view with which you disagree
Jack Phillips and his bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, came under attack when Jack respectfully declined to create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage, even though same-sex marriage was not recognized at the time in Colorado where Masterpiece Cakeshop is located. Jack declined because using his God-given talents to promote same-sex marriage would go against his religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. While Jack could not use his artistic skill to design and create a cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage, he offered to create cakes for the same-sex couple for different events or sell them pre-made items from the bakery.
Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies came to Jack’s defense after the two men contacted the ACLU and filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for sexual-orientation discrimination. They explained to the commission that Jack did not engage in sexual orientation discrimination because he objected to the message the cake would send, not the people requesting the cake. They also explained that any state attempt to force Jack to create cakes celebrating same-sex marriages would violate the First Amendment.
An administrative law judge rejected these arguments in December 2013 and ordered Jack to violate his religious beliefs by designing cakes for same-sex ceremonies. The judge ruled that designing and creating cakes for these ceremonies are not speech protected by the First Amendment and that the state could determine where Jack’s “rights end and [others’] rights begin.” The judge also held that coercing Jack to participate in a same-sex ceremony did not “unduly abridge [his] right to the free exercise of religion.”
Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies appealed this decision to the Colorado Human Rights Commission, which ruled against Jack, and then appealed the Commission’s ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which also ruled against Jack. Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies have now appealed the Appeals Court ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court which is now considering whether to accept that an appeal and decide if Jack has the free speech and free exercise rights to operate Masterpiece Cakeshop in accordance with his religious beliefs.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies defended Jack Phillips and his bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, free of charge.