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‘ 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 same-sex 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 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 shop 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 who is transgender, called Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a cake. The birthday cake was supposed to celebrate her gender transition. The shop 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.”
Mr. 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, the attorney added.
The federal 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.