Authors doing online video book “tours” is common in the pandemic era. But Coloradan Jack Phillips had an unusual “sidekick” for his May 26 conversation with a reporter: attorney Ryan Bangert of Alliance Defending Freedom, a public interest law firm that’s been at Mr. Phillips’s side since 2012, including during a 2018 Supreme Court victory.
Mr. Phillips, 65, owns the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, immediately west of Denver.
Ever since a 20-second conversation with a gay couple who asked him to create a wedding cake, he’s been in and out of civil rights hearings and lawsuits over challenges to what he says are confections his Christian beliefs won’t let him create.
Mr. Phillips has documented his struggles in “The Cost of My Faith,” a memoir released this week by District-based Regnery Publishing. Yet because he remains involved in litigation and other challenges, the debut author has an attorney at the ready.
“It’s probably unusual,” Mr. Phillips said when asked about the arrangement. “It’s my first book, so every tour I’ve done has been with a lawyer by my side,” he added.
While customers can’t order a Halloween cake from Masterpiece, or an “adult-themed” one depicting genitalia, for example, it was the cake artist’s refusal to create a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding that brought him before civil authorities and ultimately to the nation’s highest court. Although such marriages were illegal in Colorado in 2012, the state said its law required “public accommodations” such as cake shops to create wares for any customer.
Mr. Phillips argues he shouldn’t have to fit his religious conscience to social fashion.
“That’s what the state ruled in the first case,” Mr. Phillips recalled. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, he said, told him “I had to change my policies, and retrain my staff — which also included my 88-year-old mom, who informed me that she wouldn’t be retrained. But they tell me that I had to change my policies and start creating cakes for every couple that came in… and I also wouldn’t be allowed to have a hand in that design.”
The cakeshop owner insists such rules represent an infringement on his First Amendment rights.
“No artist, no American should be forced to do something that egregious to their faith,” Mr. Phillips insisted. “Every American should be able to live and work freely according to their conscience, without fear of punishment from the government.”
Mr. Phillips’s 2018 victory upended the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop because of the “religious hostility” expressed by the state body.
The Supreme Court majority did not decide whether the First Amendment’s free exercise clause protects an artist’s right to refuse commissions on religious grounds. That has left Mr. Phillips and his firm open to repeated complaints from customers for whom he would not create a cake with what he considered objectionable messages. In 2017, Autumn Scardina, an attorney and transgender woman, called Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a cake saying she wanted to celebrate a gender transition. The firm declined the order.
According to Mr. Phillips, during a mediation session with Ms. Scardina, “one of the final things that this attorney told me was that if I were to win this case, or if it was dismissed on a technicality, then I would get a call the very next day [ordering] another cake and we’d start all over again.” While such mediation discussions are confidential, Mr. Phillips added that “in our trial last March, this attorney swore to that on under oath.”
Attorney Bangert explained that while Ms. Scardina might not be able to again sue if they lose the current case, another customer could. “The way the law is constructed now, there’s really no limit to the number of plaintiffs who could continue to walk into Jack‘s shop, and continue to ask for cakes, custom cakes that Jack cannot create” according to his beliefs, Mr. Bangert added.
Reflecting on that 20-second conversation in 2012, when Mr. Phillips told the gay couple his shop didn’t create wedding cakes for same-sex couples, he said it changed his business forever. The wedding cake case, Mr. Phillips said, cost the firm 40% of its business and he had to reduce his payroll from 10 workers to four. He credited his faith with helping him endure the tumult.
“The decision was easy to make. But some of the results were, you know, more difficult, but God’s provided everything we need all the way through,” Mr. Phillips said.
The Colorado District Court decision could come at any time, Mr. Phillips said. On March 4, a judge dismissed Ms. Scardina’s claim that Masterpiece violated state consumer protection laws by advertising itself as a bakeshop but refusing to create the “transgender reveal” cake.