DENVER – A Colorado baker who insisted his religious beliefs justified his refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple – an argument partly supported by the U.S. Supreme Court – has sued the state again for opposing his refusal to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition, his attorneys said Wednesday.
Lawyers for Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips allege in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that Colorado is on a “crusade to crush” Phillips because of his religious beliefs.
They are challenging a June 28 finding by Colorado’s Civil Rights Division that Phillips discriminated against a Denver-area attorney who requested a birthday cake in 2017 to celebrate the attorney’s gender transition from male to female.
Phillips refused the request, citing his belief that “the status of being male or female … is given by God, is biologically determined, is not determined by perceptions or feelings, and cannot be chosen or changed,” the lawsuit said.
The rights division found that Autumn Scardina, who requested the cake, was discriminated against based on her transgender status. It ordered both parties to seek a mediated resolution.
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Scardina declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Phillips’ suit names rights division director Aubrey Elenis, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and Gov. John Hickenlooper as defendants. It seeks a reversal of the commission ruling and at least $100,000 in punitive damages from Elenis.
Rebecca Laurie, a spokeswoman for the commission, declined comment Wednesday, citing pending litigation. Also declining comment where Jacque Montgomery, spokeswoman for Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor, and Annie Skinner, spokeswoman for Coffman, a Republican.
Attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom, representing Phillips, contend the latest action contravenes the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Masterpiece wedding cake case. The high court ruled June 4 that some commission members displayed anti-religion bias in their deliberations and that anti-discrimination laws “must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”
But the court stayed out of the thornier issue of whether people can avoid providing services to same-sex weddings because of religious beliefs.
The original case started when Phillips refused to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins in 2012. Phillips operates a small, family-run bakery located in a strip mall in the southwest Denver suburb of Lakewood. He told the commission in the latest case that he can make no more than two to five custom cakes per week, depending on time constraints and demand for other goods.
The new lawsuit alleges that Colorado violated Phillips’ First Amendment right to practice his faith and 14th Amendment right to equal protection, citing commission rulings upholding other bakers’ refusal to make cakes exhibiting hate messages.
“For over six years now, Colorado has been on a crusade to crush Plaintiff Jack Phillips … because its officials despise what he believes and how he practices his faith,” the suit claims. “This lawsuit is necessary to stop Colorado’s continuing persecution of Phillips.”
“Neither Jack nor any other creative professionals should be targeted by the government for living consistently with their religious beliefs,” Kristen Waggoner, an ADF senior vice president, said in Wednesday statement.
The wedding cake case stirred debate during Colorado’s 2018 legislative session over the composition of the seven-member civil rights commission whose members are appointed by the governor.
Lawmakers added a business representative to the commission and, among other things, ensured no political party has an advantage on the panel.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter