WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new religious liberty task force at the Department of Justice (DOJ). To help explain the necessity of this new task force, the DOJ hosted a panel of advocates for religious freedom, including Jack Phillips, the baker in the Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the commission had displayed “clear and impermissible hostility” to Phillips’ religious beliefs. Philips had refused to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding, and the commission ruled that he had discriminated against the gay couple on the basis of sexual orientation. In one telling exchange, a member of the commission compared Phillips’ denial of service to those who defend the Holocaust.
On Monday, Phillips shared his personal experience with the Holocaust — his father fought in World War II and served with one of the first battalions to liberate a concentration camp.
In 2014, the Colorado commissioner declared that “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be — I mean, we — we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to — to use their religion to hurt others.”
This declaration was more than just offensive. First, Phillips made key business decisions based on his religious beliefs that cost him key revenues. Not only does his shop close on Sundays, but he has refused to bake Halloween cakes — and Halloween is the third biggest time for demand in the cake business.
On Friday, Phillips revealed that he would not bake “anti-American cakes or cakes that would disparage people in any way, including people who identify as LGBT.” His opposition to baking products that would endorse messages he disagrees with is the furthest thing from twisting religion to justify discrimination against LGBT people.
Kerri Kupec, a staffer with the DOJ Office of Public Affairs, asked Phillips to recount his feelings at being accused of “despicable rhetoric” like justifying the Holocaust.
“I was surprised. It was stunningly insulting, really,” Phillips said. He noted that he offered to sell the same-sex couple “anything in my shop. It doesn’t matter what your orientation is, I just can’t do this cake.”
“For the commission to compare that decision to not violate my faith to especially the Holocaust was personally insulting because my father served in World War II,” the baker revealed.
His father “landed in Normandy, he crossed France and Germany, he got a Purple Heart because of a mortar attack — which sent him back to England, patched him up, sent him back to combat in Germany. He finished the war there,” Phillips recalled.
“But he also was part of a group that liberated one of the concentration camps, the Buchenwald concentration camp,” the baker added. “And for this commissioner to compare the decision not to bake the cake portraying this message that was so antithetical to my belief about marriage, comparing that to the Holocaust, it was just such an insult.”
Phillips won his case, but others face similar situations that may not be quite as clear cut. Religious business owners should be able to refuse service to events that violate their convictions, but some LGBT activists have declared their intent to “punish the wicked,” to keep these people from being able to opt out of serving same-sex weddings.
If Colorado commissioners will compare the son of a Purple Heart World War II veteran who liberated a concentration camp to defenders of the Holocaust, there is no depth to which activists will not sink in opposing religious freedom.