Jack Phillips, a Colorado native and cake artist, opened Masterpiece Cakeshop in 1993 and has served the community of Lakewood, Colorado for more than 20 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 ordering graduation cakes for their children.
Masterpiece Cakeshop is also a family business. Jack's wife is a co-owner of the shop. His daughter helps him run it. One of his sisters decorates cakes, and another sister volunteers to keep the shop clean.
As a Christian, Jack knows that God can work as He chooses, including using small cake shops like his to do God's 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 would order him to strip his faith out of his business.
In July 2012, two men came into Jack’s cakeshop requesting a custom wedding cake celebrating their same-sex marriage. In a very brief exchange, Jack politely declined the request, saying that he could not design cakes for same-sex weddings, but offering to design them custom cakes for other occasions or to sell them anything else in his shop.
Shortly after that, Jack started to receive phone calls from people threatening and harassing him because of his decision to not use his artistic talents to design a cake celebrating a view of marriage that conflicts with his faith. 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 ordered Jack and his staff to either violate Jack's faith by designing custom wedding cakes that celebrate same-sex marriages or stop designing all wedding cakes, which was approximately 40% of Jack's business. In addition, Jack was ordered to "reeducate" his staff by teaching them that he was wrong to operate his business consistently with his faith. The state also required Jack to file quarterly “compliance” reports telling the government every time that he declines a custom cake request and explaining the reasons why.
In July 2016, ADF attorneys and allied attorneys petitioned the United States Supreme Court to take up Jack’s case. After the Supreme Court granted review, it ruled 7 to 2 in favor of Jack on June 4, 2018. The ruling reversed the state’s decision to punish Jack for living and working consistently with his religious beliefs about marriage.
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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
In 2012, two men asked Jack Phillips to create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. Jack politely declined, offering to sell them anything in his store, but designing a custom wedding cake for a same-sex marriage was not something he could do, because of his religious beliefs about marriage. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted on the couple's complaint, finding Jack violated anti-discrimination law—despite the Commission giving a free pass to three different bakers who refused orders from customers opposing same-sex marriage.
ADF represented Jack at the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the government cannot force artists to use their expressive talents to celebrate events or express ideas that they do not support. In a 7-2 ruling, the Court found that the government was wrong to punish Jack for peacefully living out his beliefs in the marketplace. The Court called out the Commission’s double standard of punishing Jack, but not the three artists who refused messages against same-sex marriage. Holding that the free exercise clause forbids hostility toward religion, it rejected one Commissioner’s claim that believing marriage is between a man and woman is akin to being racist.
Masterpiece expanded on what the Court said before: religious persons merit protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths. And the decision dovetails with NIFLA v. Becerra, where the Court firmly rejected government-compelled speech—an issue argued, but not decided in Masterpiece. Together, Masterpiece and NIFLA are foundational to restoring religious freedom in America.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies defended Jack Phillips and his business, Masterpiece Cakeshop, free of charge.