Judge rules against Christian baker Jack Phillips in transgender 'birthday' cake case

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake in Lakewood, Colorado, September 21, 2017.
Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake in Lakewood, Colorado, September 21, 2017. | Reuters/Rick Wilking

A judge has ruled that Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips violated state anti-discrimination law by refusing to bake a pink-and-blue transgender birthday cake.

Denver District Court Judge A. Bruce Jones ruled Tuesday that Phillips violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to make the cake for Autumn Scardina.

In his opinion, Jones concluded that Phillips engaged in unlawful discrimination by denying “goods and services" because of Scardina's "transgender status."

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The ruling states that Phillips' wife had initially agreed to make a pink cake with blue frosting for about six to eight people. But the cake was rejected after Scardina disclosed the meaning behind the cake's custom design.

“Defendants admit that they were willing to make the requested cake until Ms. Scardina identified that she chose the colors to reflect and celebrate her identity as a transgender female,” wrote Jones.

“Defendants are, however, willing to make cakes for non-transgender individuals that reflect that person’s gender. And Defendants would ‘gladly’ make an identical looking cake for other customers.”

Jones also wrote that it was possible that “the analysis would be different if the cake design had been more intricate, artistically involved, or overtly stated a message attributable to Defendants.” 

“Defendants’ expressive conduct argument fails because Defendants presented no evidence that a reasonable observer would attribute any message that was conveyed by the cake to Defendants,” he continued.

“Defendants have failed to carry their burden to show that providing the requested cake constituted any type of symbolic or expressive speech protected by the First Amendment.”

Alliance Defending Freedom General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, whose organization represents Phillips during his years of legal battles, vowed to appeal the decision.

“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” said Waggoner.

“We will appeal this decision and continue to defend the freedom of all Americans to peacefully live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of punishment.”

Over the past several years, Phillips has weathered extensive legal battles over his religious objections to making cakes for a same-sex wedding and a cake to celebrate transgender identity. 

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission unfairly treated Phillips when it punished him for refusing to make a same-sex wedding cake in 2012.

Scardina filed a lawsuit against Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop in June 2019 after the baker refused to make Scardina’s transgender birthday cake.

The lawsuit claimed that Phillips violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act and the Colorado Consumer Protection Act when he refused on religious grounds.

In March, Judge Jones dropped the charge that Phillips had violated the CCPA by allegedly engaging in “an unfair or deceptive trade practice.”

“Defendants contend that Plaintiff cannot show an unfair or deceptive trade practice because the most salient materials Plaintiff allegedly relied on are not advertisements. Because the Court agrees with this contention, it need not address Defendants’ remaining arguments,” wrote Jones.

“Plaintiff has failed to establish an actionable unfair or deceptive trade practice. Accordingly, summary judgment enters in Defendants’ favor on Plaintiff’s CCPA claim.”

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