The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the baker who violated Colorado anti-discrimination laws when he refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, is in the national spotlight again. This time, he’s suing the state of Colorado alleging religious discrimination after it came to light that he has refused to bake a cake for a transgender woman.
Autumn Scardina, a Colorado lawyer, requested in 2017 that Masterpiece Cakeshop make a cake for her birthday, which is also the anniversary of when she came out as transgender. Scardina asked the shop to make the cake blue on the outside and pink on the inside. Jack Phillips, the owner of the bakery, refused, claiming it went against his religious beliefs.
“The woman on the phone told me they do not make cakes celebrating gender changes,” Scardina wrote in a complaint to Colorado's Division of Civil Rights.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission then ruled that the bakery discriminated on the basis of gender identity by refusing to bake Scardina’s cake.
Aubrey Elenis, director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, wrote in her ruling that Phillips “denied [Scardina] equal enjoyment of a place of public accommodation.”
The Religious Right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is ramping up its efforts to defend Phillips’ bigotry by making him look like the victim of discrimination in the new lawsuit Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Elenis.
In ADF’s statement about the lawsuit, the group claims that Colorado officials were “doubling down on their anti-religious hostility” against Phillips.
“You would think that a clear Supreme Court decision against their first effort would give them pause,” the group stated. “But it seems like some in the state government are hellbent on punishing Jack for living according to his faith. If that isn’t hostility, what is?”
The ADF and the Religious Right’s rhetoric on this is wrong. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission does not mean that businesses suddenly have the right to use their religion to discriminate. What the bakery is doing was illegal before and is illegal now. Public businesses should be open to all.
In fact, in its 7-2 ruling on narrow grounds in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Supreme Court made it clear that public businesses do not have a right to refuse service to members of the LGBTQ community on the basis of religion.
Before reaching the Supreme Court, a Colorado state court said that Masterpiece Cakeshop violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law – which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – when it refused to provide a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a same-sex couple, for their wedding reception. The court ruled that neither the bakery nor its owner had a religious-freedom right to violate the law. Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that religious freedom is not an excuse to discriminate against others.
Phillips always insisted that he was happy to sell baked goods to LGBTQ people, but he argued that he did not want to use his artistic skills to create a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding. Now it turns out that he won’t even make a simple birthday cake for a transgender person. This latest incident has nothing to do with “artistic freedom.” The truth is, Masterpiece Cakeshop wants to use religious beliefs to treat LGBTQ folks like second-class citizens. But religious freedom is not a license to discriminate.
Americans United will continue to fight in court, in legislatures and in communities for the rights of all to live free from discrimination. In a diverse society like the United States, religious freedom is truly achieved only if businesses remain open to all regardless of their beliefs. Our country is strongest when we are all free to practice our religion, or no religion, as we choose – without hurting others.
To learn more about our work fighting discrimination in the name of religion, visit our Protect Thy Neighbor project.