You Still Have to Bake the Cake, Bigot
The Cost of My Faith: How a Decision in My Cake Shop Took Me to the Supreme Court by Jack Phillips (Salem Books: 2021), 256 pages.
Three years after securing a landmark victory for religious liberty at the U.S. Supreme Court, on June 15 baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop was ordered to pay a fine by a Denver County Court for declining to bake a cake celebrating a customer’s sex change. It did not matter that the plaintiff, Autumn Scardina, was targeting Phillips for his religious beliefs, or that Phillips has spent nearly a decade fighting the LGBT activists trying to destroy his life. Once again, Phillips found that his faith was a flashpoint in the fight between conscience rights and so-called sexual freedom.
Scardina, who identifies as transgender, called Phillips to ask for the cake the very same day in June 2018 that the Supreme Court ruled that Phillips had been discriminated against because of his faith in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. “The plaintiff said that the goal of the lawsuit was to ‘correct the errors of Jack’s thinking,” Phillips’s lawyer, Ryan Bangert of Alliance Defending Freedom, told me. “That if the case were dismissed, he would simply request another cake the following day and start the process all over again.” Scardina had previously requested a cake that featured Satan smoking a joint.
Jack Phillips released his memoir The Cost of My Faith: How a Decision in My Cake Shop Took Me to the Supreme Court in May this year, only a month before this latest Denver County Court order. The Cost of My Faith is a story of our times and for our times, a summation of the price Christians will increasingly pay for their beliefs in the decades ahead—and a road map for resistance. The book is the story of how a Colorado cakeshop became a culture war battleground; of how a private citizen found himself forced into the public spotlight; of how Christian faith has put not only bakers, but florists, wedding photographers, videographers, publishers, and t-shirt designers on a collision course with the forces of the sexual revolution.
When Phillips opened his shop on September 3, 1993—22 years before same-sex marriage would be legalized by the Supreme Court and decades before a cultural sea change made that possible—he and his wife had ground rules for the messages they would create at Masterpiece Cakeshop. Nothing “cruel or unkind or belittling,” nothing that “mocked or contradicted my faith,” no promotion of Halloween. He wouldn’t use alcohol in his baking, and at one point he declined to bake weed-shaped cookies for a marijuana shop. Phillips would serve anyone, but he wouldn’t say just anything. God, he writes, was the master of Masterpiece Cakeshop.
Customers became friends, Phillips writes, and he became part of the community. He made cakes of all sorts—quarterbacks, snowmen, teddy bears, Billy Graham, 43 countries and 49 states (he’s still waiting for Rhode Island). And then came the fateful day in 2012 when Charlie Craig and David Mullins came into Masterpiece Cakeshop. Although same-sex marriage was illegal in Colorado, they planned to get married in Massachusetts and were looking for a wedding cake. Phillips told them that due to his religious beliefs, he could not create a cake for them—although they were welcome to any of the goods in his shop.
Almost immediately after the couple left, the calls started to come in, most of them vile and vicious. The #LoveWins crowd had a target—a reporter covering the story told Phillips that all of the emails he had received were too obscene for TV. Phillips recalled marveling at how hurting and unhappy such people must be, to phone up a baker they didn’t even know to spew bile in the name of tolerance. He began answering the phone himself to protect his staff. “One day a man calls me up and says he’s got a gun, he’s coming to my shop, and he’s going to blow my head off,” Phillips told me in an interview. Another threatened to come over with a machete. He decided to get a surveillance system installed.
A letter soon arrived informing him that he’d violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act; another from the Civil Rights Division informed him he was under investigation; a third stated that charges had been referred to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Commission recommended that it prosecute Phillips, and a judge was assigned for review. The ACLU intervened on behalf of the gay couple, and Alliance Defending Freedom, an essential frontline legal outfit defending the rights of Christians in the United States, took Phillips’s case. In December 2013, the judge ruled that Colorado’s public accommodation law obliged Phillips to express certain messages with his artistry even if it meant compromising his beliefs. His First Amendment rights didn’t trump their right to his art.
In May 2014, the Commission ruled that if Phillips made wedding cakes, he’d have to bake them for anyone who asked, even if the cake included words, designs, or images he disagreed with. In short: Get out of the business or bake the cake, bigot. Additionally, he would have to file reports for two years on every cake he declined, and he and his staff—including his daughter and 88-year-old mother, “would have to undergo mandatory re-education—‘sensitivity training.’” The Commission made it clear that they saw Phillips as not much different than a staunch segregationist or a racist.
Commissioner Diann Rice put it in no uncertain terms: “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…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 people can use—to use their religion to hurt others.” Phillips found this comparison particularly painful—his father had landed on Omaha Beach in June 1944, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and carried the memories of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp with him for the rest of his life.
Fortunately, the bigotry of the Commission would be their undoing. While the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that Phillips’s faith was collateral damage—in their view, apparently, a Democrat speechwriter could be forced to write for a Republican or a Muslim singer could be forced to perform at an Easter service—on July 22, 2016, the ADF appealed to the Supreme Court. Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was chosen in 2017. The first time Phillips closed his shop for a whole week in a quarter century, he hung a sign on the door: “Will be closed this week. Going to Washington, D.C. for the Supreme Court of the United States. Will open again on December 11.”
The stakes of the case were extremely high, and not just for Phillips. If he lost, Christians across America could be subject to compelled speech. Many could lose their businesses if they chose their faith over their commercial interests. It was a lot to put on the shoulders of a baker from Colorado—especially as his fame and notoriety grew. Christians asked him for his autograph. An ex-military special operations veteran who’d served in Vietnam came into his shop and, with tears in his eyes, presented Phillips with his service medal. Every major newspaper covered his story; he appeared on Megyn Kelly; and he faced the ladies of The View. All were aware that this case represented the first great clash between Christians and the LGBT movement in post-Obergefell America.
Phillips’s memories of the case make an interesting read: the justices barking questions over each other; the untold hours of trial runs conducted by the ADF; the justices grappling with the fundamental question: What is considered speech? Anthony Kennedy, the utopian who believed America could accommodate both same-sex marriage and religious freedom, gave the Colorado state attorney a grilling, consistently highlighting the animosity displayed towards Phillips’s faith. Outside the Court, others who had been persecuted, prosecuted, or fined for their faith waited outside with signs supporting Phillips, who represented them all. The case, he writes, was about his faith, and through it all his faith sustained him. He recalls looking out over a sea of cameras, microphones, supporters, and detractors in front of the Court after the arguments and feeling a sense of total peace. God was in control.
On June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court’s decision was announced: 7-2 in favor of Phillips. Only Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Anthony Kennedy authored the decision, excoriating the anti-Christian bigotry of the Commission. In a way, the Colorado Civil Rights Commissioners had done Phillips—and American Christians everywhere—a favor by saying out loud what LGBT activists and their allies actually believe. They accused Philips of bigotry, and their own bigotry was exposed and condemned by the highest court in the land.
The implications of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission were as significant as ADF had hoped (and feared)—it has already been cited over in 80 court cases, representing, Phillips noted, “a growing consensus that the Supreme Court sent a message that the government can’t kick Christians out of the marketplace.” Baronelle Stutzman’s florist case was sent back to the Washington Supreme Court after the ruling; courts cited it when East Lansing officials penalized the Christian owners of Country Mill Farms for expressing their biblical view of marriage online; in New York, a court ruled against Syracuse officials when they attempted to shut down the Christian adoption agency New Hope Family Services for only placing children in a home with both a mother and a father.
It is not surprising that LGBT activists are determined to punish Jack Phillips for his courageous stand—that is why despite having won at the Supreme Court, he is once again entangled in a legal battle. “There is a vendetta against me,” he told me. “But we’re doing really good. The family has drawn closer together because of this. Watching my wife go through the deposition was difficult; watching the opposing side try to destroy your wife and daughter’s testimony. It’s been crazy.”
What advice, I asked him, does he have for other Christians facing similar situations? It is simple, Phillips said. “People must draw their lines in the sand and know what’s valuable in their life and what is not; which lines they can erase and which lines they have to stand behind. They have to be lines that are worth it. Our faith in Jesus Christ is.”
I hope that someday soon, Jack Phillips can return to his cakeshop and resume doing what he loves. Like so many of those who have found themselves a target of the LGBT movement, he simply wants to live out his faith and love his neighbors. His Christian beliefs, in post-Obergefell America, have made that impossible for the time being—but perhaps his decision to put his faith first will help to win a future where upcoming generations of Christians can do so. His memoir lays out the cost of his faith, but American Christians owe him a debt of gratitude.
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has appeared in National Review, The European Conservative, the National Post, and elsewhere. Jonathon is the author of The Culture War and Seeing Is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion as well as the co-author with Blaise Alleyne of A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide.