DENVER | Colorado baker Jack Phillips was found guilty of discrimination for refusing to prepare a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, but his attorneys said Monday that a state official who ruled against him is guilty of anti-religious bias.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys released an audio recording in which Diann Rice, a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, said that Mr. Phillips’ citing of his religious beliefs in his defense puts him on the same level as Nazis and slaveholders.
In 2012 Mr. Phillips declined to bake and decorate a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, saying that his Christian faith prevented him from doing so. He offered to make them any other kind of cake, but the two men filed a complaint against him with the commission.
“I would also like to reiterate what we said in the last meeting [on Mr. Phillips]. 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,” Ms. Rice said at the July 25 hearing.
“I mean, we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination,” Ms. Rice said. “And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use — to use their religion to hurt others.”
Jeremy Tedesco, ADF senior legal counsel, said in a statement that Ms. Rice’s comments reveal an “anti-religious bigotry” that “undermines the integrity of the entire process and the commission’s order as well.”
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The audio recording was released Monday along with a brief filed with the Colorado Court of Appeals, which challenges the seven-member commission’s May 30 ruling based in part on Ms. Rice’s “alarming bias and animus toward Phillips’s religious beliefs.”
“At least one Commission member holds such beliefs,” the brief said. “And her comment suggests that other members of the Commission may share her view that people who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman are comparable to those who committed the Holocaust. This anti-religious bias undermines the integrity of the Commission’s process and final order.”
The Masterpiece Cakeshop case is one of several working its way through the court system that pits gay couples against Christian small business owners who have declined to provide services for same-sex marriages.
Refusing to create products for same-sex weddings amounts to discrimination, say gay rights groups, while Mr. Phillips and others argue that their products, such as wedding cakes, floral arrangements and photographs, constitute artistic expression protected by the First Amendment.
In its ruling, the Colorado commission ordered Mr. Phillips to re-educate himself and his staff on state anti-discrimination law, adopt policies to comply with the order and file quarterly compliance reports for two years.
“The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business,” said the ADF in a statement.
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Ms. Rice was also accused of wrongly citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent on discrimination. During the hearing, she said that “the U.S. Supreme Court has found over and over that you cannot discriminate on the basis of race, and sexual orientation is a status absolutely like race,” according to the audio.
Not so, said ADF attorneys.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has never found that sexual orientation is a status equivalent to race. In fact, the high court has twice held that the First Amendment bars the government from relying on sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws to force people or groups to speak messages with which they disagree,” said the ADF statement.
Ms. Rice did not respond Monday to an attempt to contact her through the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, which oversees the commission.
ADF attorney Nicolle Martin said the commission’s ruling against Mr. Phillips “demonstrated misstatements on constitutional law [and raises] serious questions about their judgment.”
“Jack should not be forced by the government — or by another citizen — to endorse or promote ideas with which he disagrees,” Ms. Martin said. “But it’s worse when he is forced to do so by one or more officials who make serious errors in their legal analysis and justify coercing the speech of a private citizen by citing their own hostility to religion.”