(CNSNews.com) – A federal district court ruled Friday that Colorado cannot block an attempt by Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips to sue the state over its “hostility” towards him and his Christian beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represents Phillips, owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, in the lawsuit.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in June 2018, saying the commission “violated the Free Exercise Clause” by requiring Phillips to go against his religious beliefs about gay marriage and design a customized wedding cake for a gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins.
“While it is unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” the high court wrote in its opinion at the time.
“The same agency that the Supreme Court rebuked as hostile to Jack Phillips has remained committed to treating him unequally and forcing him to express messages that violate his religious beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell, who argued before the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on Dec. 18.
“Colorado is acting in bad faith and with bias toward Jack. We look forward to moving forward with this lawsuit to ensure that Jack isn’t forced to create custom cakes that express messages in conflict with his faith,” Campbell added.
ADF noted that the commission filed a formal complaint against Phillips after the Supreme Court ruling because an attorney complained that Phillips refused to “create a cake designed pink on the inside and blue on the outside to celebrate and reflect a gender transition.”
The same attorney later asked Phillips to design a cake with satanic themes and images, but Phillips also refused.
“Jack serves all customers, and he is even happy to serve the attorney who lodged the complaint against him,” Campbell explained. “But Jack doesn’t create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with his deeply held beliefs. He can’t get a fair shake before the state commission,” Campbell said.
“A commissioner set to decide the state’s new case against Jack has publicly referred to him as a ‘hater’ on Twitter, one of several indications of the commission’s ongoing bad faith toward him and his beliefs,” Campbell added.
In his ruling, District Court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel said in his opinion that the commission and the Colorado Civil Rights Division treated Phillips “with hostility inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”
To demonstrate that, Daniel provided two examples.
“The Division’s and the Commission’s ‘clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated [Phillips’] objection’ to creating the custom wedding cake manifested itself in two ways,” Daniel wrote in his opinion.
“First, Commission members made disparaging comments about Phillips’ faith at public hearings. And second, the Division and the Commission treated Phillips differently from three other bakeries by allowed those bakeries to refuse a customer’s request to make a cake that would have violated their secular values, while requiring Phillips to produce a cake that would have violated his sacred beliefs,” the opinion stated.
“Weeks after the Supreme Court announced Masterpiece I, the Division issued a new probable cause determination against Phillips, alleging that he discriminated against a different customer because of the customer’s transgender status. The Commission also claimed Phillips discriminated against the customer and filed a formal complaint against him,” Daniel wrote.
“Tired of Colorado’s ‘continuing efforts to target Phillips’ and ‘unconstitutional bullying,’ Phillips filed this suit against Defendants. Phillips alleges that the new probable cause determination and formal complaint violate his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free speech and his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. Among other remedies, he asks for injunctive relief, declaratory judgment, and monetary compensation,” the opinion stated.
The defendants are identified as: Colorado Civil Rights Division Director Aubrey Elenis, seven members of the commission, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.