Masterpiece Cakeshop Lawyers Say Case Exemplifies Why Controversial Religious Freedom Laws Needed

Lakewood baker Jack Phillips is appealing a May 2014 ruling that he cannot discriminate against same-sex couples seeking wedding cakes. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop, had violated Colorado's anti-discrimination law when he declined to make a cake for same-sex couple Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins in July 2012.

But Phillips wasn't happy with the decision, and he is appealing it to the Colorado Court of Appeals. "My issue is, I don't want to be forced to participate in a same-sex wedding," Phillips told reporters when that decision came down.

The case is moving along: Phillips filed an initial brief, Craig and Mullins responded, and now Phillips has replied to their response. His attorney, Nicolle Martin, is affiliated with the faith-based Alliance Defending Freedom. That organization is using Phillips's case to illustrate why so-called religious freedom laws, like the controversial measure being debated in Indiana, are necessary.

"States should adopt religious freedom laws that protect their citizens’ fundamental right to religious liberty so the government has to prove a compelling reason before it can force someone like Jack to violate his faith," Jeremy Tedesco of the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement. “Government shouldn’t have a license to punish Americans for exercising their basic civil rights.”

So what are Phillips's arguments — the kind used to justify religious freedom laws across the country? We've excerpted a few below:
(Phillips's) work is intimately connected to his faith. He believes God granted him artistic and creative abilities and that he is religiously obligated to use those abilities in a manner that honors God. He thus declines to create cakes that convey messages that are contrary to his religious convictions, like those celebrating atheism, racism, indecency, or Halloween.

Nor will Phillips create wedding cakes honoring same-sex marriages, regardless who orders them, because Phillips believes that God ordained marriage as the sacred union between one man and one woman.
There are some 300 other bakeries in the Denver area that are available to fulfill such requests. The State has no vital interest in compelling Phillips personally to provide such a non-essential service, especially when scores of other bakeries are ready and willing to do so.
Phillips is forced to choose between following his religious beliefs or staying in business. No state should put its citizens to such a Hobson’s Choice.
Granting Phillips’ request that CADA (Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act) be enforced in a manner that respects his free speech and free exercise rights will not undermine the protections public accommodations and other laws provide against discrimination. It will simply recognize and reaffirm that such laws violate the First Amendment when they are “applied to expressive activity.”

And its scope would be limited to those businesses that create and sell expression. ... It would thus protect the right of Colorado baker Marjorie Silva to decline to create a cake that references biblical teaching about sex and marriage based on her “standards of offensiveness,” or a gay Colorado photographer to decline an offer from Westboro Baptist Church to shoot photos at its latest demonstration.
Earlier this year, we reported that a customer had filed a religious discrimination complaint against Silva's shop, Azucar Bakery in Denver. The complaint stemmed from an incident that happened the previous spring: a man came into the shop and requested a Bible-shaped cake with anti-gay messages written in frosting. Instead, Silva offered him a blank cake and the equipment to decorate it himself.
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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar