Baker Involved in Supreme Court Case Whips Up a New Controversy
DENVER — A Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on religious grounds — a stance partially upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — has sued the state over its opposition to his refusal to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition, his attorneys said Wednesday.
Jack Phillips, owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver, claimed that Colorado officials are on a “crusade to crush” him and force him into mediation over the gender transition cake because of his religious beliefs, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Phillips is seeking to overturn a Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling that he discriminated against a transgender person by refusing to make a cake celebrating that person’s transition from male to female.
His lawsuit came after the Supreme Court ruled in June that Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission displayed anti-religious bias when it sanctioned Phillips for refusing to make a wedding cake in 2012 for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, a same-sex couple.
The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment. But the court did not rule on the larger issue of whether businesses can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gays and lesbians.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit law firm, represented Phillips in the case and filed the new lawsuit.
Phillips operates a small, family-run bakery located in a strip mall in the southwest Denver suburb of Lakewood. He told the state civil rights commission that he can make no more than two to five custom cakes per week, depending on time constraints and consumer demand for the cakes that he sells in his store that are not for special orders.
Autumn Scardina, a Denver attorney whose practice includes family, personal injury, insurance and employment law, filed the Colorado complaint — saying that Phillips refused her request for a gender transition cake in 2017.
Cardina said she asked for a cake with a pink interior and a blue exterior and told Phillips it was intended to celebrate her gender transition. She did not state in her complaint whether she asked for the cake to have a message on it.
The commission found on June 28 that Scardina was discriminated against because of her transgender status. It ordered both parties to seek a mediated solution.
Phillips sued in response, 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,” according to his lawsuit.
Phillips alleges that Colorado violated his First Amendment right to practice his faith and the 14th Amendment right to equal protection, citing commission rulings upholding other bakers’ refusal to make cakes with messages that are offensive to them.
“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 lawsuit said. “This lawsuit is necessary to stop Colorado’s continuing persecution of Phillips.”
Phillips’ lawyers also suggested that Scardina may have targeted Phillips several times after he refused her original request. The lawsuit said he received several anonymous requests to make cakes depicting Satan and Satanic symbols and that he believed she made the requests.
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Scardina declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Her brother, attorney Todd Scardina, is representing her in the case and did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Phillips’ lawsuit refers to a website for Scardina’s practice, Scardina Law. The site states, in part: “We take great pride in taking on employers who discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and serving them their just desserts.”
The lawsuit said that Phillips has been harassed, received death threats, and that his small shop was vandalized while the wedding cake case wound its way through the judicial system.
Phillips’ suit names as defendants members of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, including division director Aubrey Elenis; Republican state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman; and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. It seeks a reversal of the commission ruling and at least $100,000 in punitive damages from Elenis.
Hickenlooper told reporters he learned about the lawsuit Wednesday and that the state had no vendetta against Phillips.
Rebecca Laurie, a spokeswoman for the civil rights commission, declined comment Wednesday, citing pending litigation. Also declining comment was Coffman spokeswoman Annie Skinner.
The Masterpiece Cakeshop wedding cake case stirred intense debate about the mission and composition of Colorado’s civil rights commission during the 2018 legislative session. Its seven members are appointed by the governor.
Lawmakers added a business representative to the commission and, among other things, moved to ensure that no political party has an advantage on the panel.