The Christian baker who recently won a Supreme Court ruling against the state of Colorado has again come under fire for holding to traditional Christian teachings concerning sexuality and marriage. This time, a transgender lawyer reported Jack Phillips for refusing to create a special cake in honor of his “gender transition” (he now identifies as a female by the name of Autumn Scardina). When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled against him again, Phillips filed a countersuit in federal court against the state, alleging its “continuing efforts to target” him make it “clear that Colorado will not rest until Phillips either closes Masterpiece Cakeshop or agrees to violate his religious beliefs.”
On June 4, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling against Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission because of the “clear and impermissible hostility” certain members of the Civil Rights Commission had displayed toward Phillips’ Christian beliefs.
However, on June 28, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission again decided there was “probable cause” to rule that Phillips and his business had violated the state’s non-discrimination law, this time for refusing to custom-design and bake a cake that, as Phillips understood it, “was to represent and celebrate a gender transition.” This ruling came despite the fact that Colorado had told the Supreme Court that Phillips was “free to decline to sell cakes with ‘pro-gay’ designs or inscriptions.”
The Commission’s most recent ruling was eerily similar to the earlier case that eventually led to Phillips’ victory in the Supreme Court. In that case, Phillips turned down a request to bake a custom wedding cake for two men because to do so would express approval for something that violated his Christian belief that “marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman.”
In response, one commissioner said in a formal hearing that Phillips could believe whatever he wants, but could not act on the belief “if he decides to do business in the state.” Instead, the commissioner continued, “he needs to look at being able to compromise.” Another commissioner in a later hearing said using religion to justify discrimination was “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.” In page 14 of their opinion, the Supreme Court noted that he even “went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.” Furthermore, the Court continued, no members of the Commission ever contradicted or recanted these statements, and the Court reversed the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s ruling against Phillips in large part because of the overwhelming hostility presented in statements like these.
During the six years of litigation, Colorado required Phillips to provide cakes for same-sex weddings or stop making wedding cakes altogether. Phillips chose to uphold his religious beliefs and stopped making wedding cakes—losing forty percent of his income as a result.
In the current case, Jack Phillips’ Christian beliefs are being directly tested again. This time, his belief that is under assault is that “sex—the status of being male or female—is given by God, is biologically determined, is not determined by perceptions or feelings, and cannot be chosen or changed.” The same Commission which the Supreme Court rebuked for its bias against Phillips’ Christian beliefs has once again ruled that, by following his beliefs, Jack Phillips engaged in discrimination.
Seeking an end to this continued harassment, Phillips brought federal suit against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The suit alleges that the Civil Rights Commission “still harbors hostility toward Phillips” and treats him “worse than others because it despises his religious beliefs and how he practices his faith.”
It is too early to say whether appeals from either the state or federal litigation will reach the Supreme Court. Even if they do, it is too early to speculate as to how the court will rule. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the justice who authored the decision in favor of Phillips and often provided the swing vote on the Supreme Court, retired at the end of July and has not yet been replaced.
In any event, perhaps Mr. Phillips will find solace in the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)