Lawyers for a Christian bakery owner who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple are calling out a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for a comment she made in which they say she compared the baker "to slave owners and perpetrators of the Holocaust." At a July hearing, Commissioner Diann Rice said it was "despicable" to use religion to justify discrimination, and she used slavery and the Holocaust as examples.
"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," she said, according to a transcript provided by the baker's lawyers. "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. So that's just my personal point of view."
In May 2014, the commission found that baker Jack Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, violated state anti-discrimination laws when he refused to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins in 2012. The commission ordered Phillips to stop discriminating against gay couples. The commissioners also required that Phillips submit quarterly reports for two years detailing changes in store policy, training for employees and a tally of how many customers are turned away and why.
Phillips has appealed the commission's decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Rice made her comment referencing slavery and the Holocaust at a July commission meeting. The meeting was to vote on whether to put the commission's decision on hold in light of the pending appeal. (The commissioners decided not to do so.) Phillips's lawyers highlighted Rice's comments in their appeals brief and said such "anti-religious bias undermines the integrity of the Commission's process and final order."
They also sent out a press release blasting Rice for her comments. The headline on the press release read, "Colo. commissioner compared cake artist to Nazi."
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"Such alarming bias and hostility toward Jack's religious beliefs -- and toward religion in general -- has no place in civil society, let alone on a governmental commission that sits in judgment of whether he may follow his faith in how he runs his business," Jeremy Tedesco, the senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement. The Arizona-based nonprofit "legal ministry" is helping Phillips defend his case.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Regulatory Agencies, of which the commission is a part, said Rice couldn't comment on the issue. "This is a matter that is currently before the Colorado Court of Appeals," spokeswoman Rebecca Laurie wrote in an e-mail to Westword. "Therefore neither DORA, nor members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, are at liberty to comment on this case."
Hear Rice's comment in the audio clip below, provided by Phillips's lawyers.