Jack Phillips was given a choice that, for him, really was no choice at all, regardless of the personal or business cost.
When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission required him to prepare custom wedding cakes for same-sex couples if requested, Phillips shut down the wedding cake part of his business altogether at Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo.
As a result, he’s lost 40 percent of his overall business, and he’s gone from having a payroll of 10 people down to four, counting himself.
“It has impacted us pretty dramatically,” Phillips said. “But we’re making ends meet and our bills are getting paid. But this is not just about me and my case. This is about every American’s freedom and our constitutional rights being protected. If it’s just me, it’s not that important, but this is something that affects everybody.”
This potentially landmark religious liberty case—Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission—will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, likely in November or December. The case goes back to July 2012 when two men entered Masterpiece Cakeshop and asked Phillips to prepare a custom cake for their wedding. Phillips politely declined due to his belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. He explained that he would make them any other kind of baked item they wanted, but he couldn’t use his artistic skills to help celebrate their wedding.
“I’ve tried to honor the Lord in the things I’ve designed and creatively produced,” Phillips told Decision. “I want them to be things that if Jesus Christ walked into the bakery, He’d say, ‘You did a good job with the time and talents I gave you.’ In no way would I want to dishonor Him.”
The same-sex couple complained to the commission, which labeled Phillips’ decision discriminatory and ordered him to fulfill similar requests in the future.
Phillips said he was not discriminating and that all people are welcome into his shop at any time. Several other times in the past, he has declined business based on his religious beliefs—without any objections from customers.
“A lot of people think I just pointed out this particular event, but there are a significant number of events that I won’t create cakes for,” Phillips said. “One is Halloween, which is huge financially in the cake world, but I don’t think I could honor my Lord Jesus if I did it.
“I don’t do cakes that are anti-American or disparaging toward anybody. I had a guy who wanted me to make a cake calling his boss a jerk, but I wouldn’t do it. I’ve declined to make lewd cakes for bachelor parties, and there was a guy who wanted me to make half of a three-tiered cake because he was celebrating getting divorced. I don’t help with those things.”
When Phillips and family members started the business 24 years ago, wedding cakes were the top priority.
“One of our goals was to be one of the best wedding places in town,” he said. “I like to meet with the bride and groom when they come in, get to know them and sketch out ideas of exactly what they want in a cake.”
Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop are represented by the religious liberty legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), whose other clients include Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash. She, too, has come under fire for not wanting to provide services for a same-sex wedding based on her religious beliefs. ADF has asked the Supreme Court to hear her case and potentially consolidate it with Phillips’ case.
Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at ADF, said the stakes have never been higher for religious liberty and freedom of speech in America.
“It’s worse than it’s ever been,” he said. “All of our freedoms are at risk.
“What the government is essentially saying and doing to business owners like Jack is, ‘You have to choose between having a business and your First Amendment rights.’ That’s not a choice the government [should be able to] give them.”
ADF filed its opening brief with the Supreme Court in late August, arguing that the government cannot coerce Phillips to create artistic expression with which he fundamentally disagrees and that it cannot declare certain beliefs are unacceptable in the public square.
The Department of Justice and a group of Christian ministries, including BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse, filed amicus briefs with the Court supporting Phillips.
“When Phillips designs and creates a custom wedding cake for a specific couple and a specific wedding, he plays an active role in enabling that ritual, and he associates himself with the celebratory message conveyed,” Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall wrote in the DOJ brief.
Tedesco said Phillips’ case is a prime example of what’s at stake for all Americans.
“The cost of choosing your faith, your First Amendment rights, is incredibly steep,” Tedesco said. “Jack is desperately trying to keep his business afloat. Barronelle has had her whole life savings threatened by monetary fines. We have other clients where jail time is a possibility. When the government is taking the position that it can punish you and penalize you for exercising your First Amendment rights in the way you run your business, that’s a dangerous thing for our society.
“People tend to get narrowly focused on this being a same-sex marriage case. It really is not about that. It has everything to do with everyone’s freedom.”