In 2015, a customer walked out of Azucar Bakery in Colorado empty handed.
He had requested a cake shaped like a Bible, showing two men holding hands with a red “X” over them along with other related words and symbols. But the owner and pastry chef at Azucar Bakery did not want to use their artistic talents to express a message they find offensive—specifically a message opposing same-sex marriage. So they declined.
The customer left and filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
That’s because, less than 10 miles away, cake artist Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop faced a similar situation. A same-sex couple asked Jack to design a custom cake for their wedding, but Jack politely declined. He could not use his artistic talents to celebrate an event that goes against his religious beliefs. Even still, Jack offered to sell the couple anything else in his store or design a cake for a different event. Jack serves all people, but he cannot celebrate every event.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ultimately found that Azucar Bakery had done nothing wrong and that the owner and pastry chef have the right to decline to express a message against their beliefs. And the Commission reached the same conclusion for two other cakeshops that were asked to design similar cakes to what was requested of Azucar Bakery. This is as it should be.
Rather than recognizing that Jack has the same right, however, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission found that Jack had violated the law.
Do you see the double standard?
While Azucar Bakery was cleared by the Civil Rights Commission, Jack and Masterpiece Cakeshop have been tied up in a lawsuit for more than five years, a lawsuit that brought him to the U.S. Supreme Court in December.
But legal battles in court are only one part of this case.
Jack had to stop designing custom wedding cakes altogether, which accounted for roughly 40 percent of his business. He was ordered to “re-educate” his staff (mostly family), explaining that it is intolerant and discriminatory for him to act on his religious beliefs about marriage. He has to report to the government whenever he declines to design a cake for any reason – whether it be a Halloween cake, a bachelor party cake, a divorce party cake, or even cakes disparaging the LGBT community (all of which he has previously declined to design).
How did the Colorado Civil Rights Commission get it right for Azucar but not for Jack?
It’s simple. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission is not concerned about preserving artistic and religious freedom. It is concerned about punishing anyone who does not agree with the state’s preferred view of marriage.
When it comes to Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage, that viewpoint is not welcome.
After all, a cake artist is free to decline a request to criticize same-sex marriage. But he may not decline a request to support same-sex marriage. The state has left no doubt that it is playing favorites on the issue of marriage.
That’s a dangerous precedent to set – which is why Alliance Defending Freedom argued on Jack’s behalf before the Supreme Court in December. We asked the court to uphold Jack’s artistic and religious freedom. The decision in his case could be a landmark First Amendment ruling.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission can’t have it both ways. Allowing artistic freedom for only those it agrees with is not freedom at all. And it’s a double standard that must not be allowed to stand.