Colorado Drops Case Against Christian Baker amid Mounting Evidence of 'Anti-Religious Bias'

On Tuesday, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Christian baker Jack Phillips have agreed to end all litigation going forward. The commission lost a key First Amendment case before the Supreme Court last year after prosecuting Phillips for refusing to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, but it had begun the process of prosecuting him again, this time for refusing to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition.

"When I set out to build my dream of opening my own cake shop, combining my love for art and baking in a family business, I never imagined this chapter would be part of the Masterpiece Cakeshop story," Phillips said in a statement. "I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop; I simply can’t celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs."

The commission argued that Phillips was discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity when in reality the baker gladly serves all people. He merely refuses to use his cake art to endorse events that conflict with his religious beliefs.

"The Supreme Court affirmed that government hostility against people of faith is unconstitutional, and that Colorado was hostile to my faith. That hostility cost me 40 percent of my business and the wedding work that I love to do," Jack Phillips said. "But even after this, Colorado was relentless in seeking to crush me and my shop for living consistently with my deeply held religious beliefs."

"The state launched a new prosecution against me just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled in my favor. Yet today, as evidence of the state’s hostility toward my faith continues to emerge, the state announced that it will be dismissing its most recent complaint against me," the cake artist noted. "Today is a win for freedom. I’m very grateful and looking forward to serving my customers as I always have: with love and respect."

The decision came after a state representative, Dave Williams, testified in February that one of the members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission told him last November that "they believe there is anti-religious bias on the Commission."

In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018), the Supreme Court ruled that the commission had violated Jack Phillips's right to free exercise of religion by targeting him for his religious beliefs.

Had Phillips and ADF proven that the commission was driven by anti-religious bias, they would likely have prevailed in Masterpiece v. Elenis, the lawsuit Phillips filed after the commission pursued the transgender case against him.

One commissioner called Jack Phillips a "cake hater" on Twitter in 2013. Last week, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing Phillips, uncovered statements from a June 2018 public meeting in which commissioners expressed their support for anti-religious comments that a previous commissioner, Diann Rice, made in 2015.

"I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing … in the last meeting [about Jack Phillips]: 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 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 use their religion to hurt others," Rice said at the time.

At a June 22, 2018, public meeting, members of the commission expressed their disapproval with the Supreme Court ruling and their support for Diann Rice's 2015 comments.

"I support Commissioner Diann Rice and her comments. I don't think she said anything wrong," Commissioner Rita Lewis said.

"I also very much stand behind Commissioner Rice's statements... I was actually proud of what she said, and I agree with her... I'm almost glad that something the Commissioner said ended up public and used because I think it was the right thing," Commissioner Carol Fabrizio added.

"The state of Colorado is dismissing its case against Jack, stopping its six and a half years of hostility toward him for his beliefs," ADF Senior Vice President of the U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner, who argued on behalf of Phillips at the U.S. Supreme Court, said in a statement. "Jack’s victory is great news for everyone."

"Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a diverse society like ours," Waggoner added. "They enable us to peacefully coexist with each another. But the state’s demonstrated and ongoing hostility toward Jack because of his beliefs is undeniable."

"We hope that the state is done going along with obvious efforts to harass Jack," ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell said. "He shouldn’t be driven out of business just because some people disagree with his religious beliefs and his desire to live consistently with them. We look forward to the day when Jack doesn’t have to fear government punishment for his faith or harassment from people who oppose his beliefs."

In announcing the end of litigation, Colorado AG Phil Weiser noted that Autumn Scardina, the lawyer who requested a transgender-themed cake, may still bring litigation against Jack Phillips.

Tragically, anti-religious bias seems a growing threat, especially when traditional religious beliefs clash with LGBT pride. Democrat-aligned senators have pressured President Donald Trump's nominees on their beliefs about same-sex marriage, salvation, and abortion, asking leading questions that smear conservative and Christian groups like ADF as "hate groups."

When ADF announced the lawsuit to defend the baker from the commission's second attack, media outlets reported the story as if Jack Phillips were the aggressor. It seems likely outlets will find a way to report this news in a similarly negative light toward the cake artist. In doing so, they would be propping up the very anti-religious bias that led the commission to prosecute Jack Phillips in the first place.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.