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Colorado Drops Lawsuit Against Baker Who Refused to Bake Transgender Woman’s Cake
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Photo: Jack Phillips decorates a birthday cake at Masterpiece Cakeshop, January 3, 2012 / Denver Post

Colorado Drops Lawsuit Against Baker Who Refused to Bake Transgender Woman’s Cake

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“America’s most controversial baker” – this is what social media call Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker whose battles with the state – “acting in bad faith and with bias” toward him – have lasted for more than six years. “What? A baker? What could he do?” you may be asking yourself. Well, actually it’s what he REFUSED to do – the man refused to make LGBTQ-themed cakes on religious grounds. Now his legal fight is over, and the baker’s attorneys called it a victory, while the state attorney general said both sides “agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward.”

In an announcement released Tuesday, the state office explained that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission will voluntarily drop its case against Phillips; in return, Phillips will end his federal lawsuit against the state alleging the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was harassing him for refusing to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition.

“After careful consideration of the facts, both sides agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases,” a statement from the Colorado attorney general’s office read. “The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them.”

“Equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state’s and nation’s civil rights laws.”

“The state of Colorado is dismissing its case against Jack, stopping its six and a half years of hostility toward him for his beliefs,” said Kristen Waggoner, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom who argued on behalf of Phillips before the Supreme Court previously. “Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a diverse society like ours. They enable us to peacefully coexist with each [other].”

Phillips has battled the state Civil Rights Commission in two separate cases, arguing in each that his right to freedom of speech and religion protect his decision to not bake cakes with LGBTQ themes.

Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop has been a source of national discussion since he was punished by the state for refusing to bake a custom cake for a gay wedding in 2012. The ACLU of Colorado filed a complaint against Phillips on behalf of the couple and an administrative judge ruled that the baker discriminated against the couple for their sexual orientation.

Phillips appealed the ruling and the case rose to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 in Phillips’ favor last June, stating that Colorado violated Phillips’ First Amendment rights and that some members of the Civil Rights Commission exhibited hostility toward religious beliefs and did not act as a neutral ruling body.

Protesters outside his shop, August 4, 2012 / Denver Post

“When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority.

Soon after receiving a favorable ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Phillips again found himself in legal trouble for refusing to make a cake for a transgender lawyer named Autumn Scardina who wanted to celebrate the anniversary of her gender transition.

The paradox is that a transgender woman asked for the cake on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would consider Phillips’ appeal of a previous commission ruling against him.

When the cake shop staff refused to do so, the woman filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission, which again found probable cause that the shop violated state law in the incident.

According to the Christian Post, Phillips has received a number of targeted requests from that lawyer and other customers, including cakes celebrating Satan, marijuana, and cakes with sexually explicit imagery.

“I don’t discriminate against anybody – I serve everybody that comes in my shop,” he told NBC in June, after the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Colorado had been hostile toward his religious beliefs. “I don’t create cakes for every message that people ask me to create.”

“After Phillips defended himself all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, he thought Colorado’s hostility toward his faith was over. He was wrong,” reads the introduction of the suit filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-LGBT legal group that successfully argued Phillips’ case before the high court.

“Colorado has renewed its war against him by embarking on another attempt to prosecute him, in direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s ruling in his favor. This lawsuit is necessary to stop Colorado’s continuing persecution of Phillips.”

“Phillips declined to create the cake with the blue and pink design because it would have celebrated messages contrary to his religious belief that sex — 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,” explained the lawsuit.

Several weeks later, in August, Phillips sued the commission and other state officials, claiming that the commission had a “crusade to crush” him and that the state was harassing him. He also cited his belief that gender “is given by God ... and cannot be chosen or changed.”

“The fact remains that Colorado has a civil rights division and anti-discrimination laws that equally protect the fundamental rights of all Coloradans. Businesses may decide what products or services they offer, but they do not get to pick and choose who they offer those products or services to,” executive director Daniel Ramos said in the statement.

Baker Jack Phillips decorates a cake in his Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado on Sept. 21, 2017 / Reuters

Both sides notified a federal judge on Tuesday that Phillips’ lawsuit was being dropped and each party would pay for their own costs and attorney fees.

The agreement was a victory for Phillips because the state stopped its proceedings against him – which was always the ultimate goal of the lawsuit, said Jim Campbell, one of the attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom representing Phillips.

“He’s looking forward to getting back to life without the state prosecuting him,” Campbell said. “We hope that the state is done going along with obvious efforts to harass Jack.”

“He shouldn’t be driven out of business just because some people disagree with his religious beliefs and his desire to live consistently with them.”

The agreement resolves every ongoing legal dispute between the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver and the state.

Despite the drawn-out legal back-and-forth, Phillips’ policy regarding what cakes he will and will not bake has not changed. In a statement, the baker said he still won’t make cakes that don’t align with his faith.

“I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop; I simply can't celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs,” he said.

Phillips said his shop lost 40 percent of its business because of the legal proceedings and publicity.

“Today is a win for freedom,” he said. “I’m very grateful and looking forward to serving my customers as I always have: with love and respect.”

Despite the agreement, Scardina still has the option to file her own lawsuit against Phillips, said Pacheco, the attorney general’s spokesman.

Author: USA Really