Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., appeared outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday to defend his decision not to bake a cake for a gay wedding, and said being forced by the government to choose between “providing for my family and employees” and violating his religious beliefs is neither freedom nor tolerance.
The justices heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop’s fight against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission on Tuesday. Phillips is challenging the constitutionality of the state’s public accommodations law, which forces him to bake the cake. He says that's forcing him into a form of speech that violates his religious beliefs.
The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, a gay couple who asked Phillips to make a cake for their wedding. Phillips declined their request.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters and reporters outside the Supreme Court after oral arguments concluded, Phillips spoke of his longstanding policy not to create custom cake designs for “events or messages that conflict with my conscience.”
“I don’t create cakes that celebrate Halloween, promote sexual or anti-American themes, or disparage people, including people who identify as LGBT,” Phillips said. “For me, it’s never about the person making the request. It’s always about the message the person wants the cake to communicate.”
Phillips said he has been engaged in a five-year-long battle as his case weaved its way through the judicial system before ultimately landing before the Supreme Court in one of the term’s most high-profile cases.
“It’s been very hard on me and my family,” he said. “There have been many tears and many difficult days for us. I’ve had to stop creating the wedding art that I love, I’ve faced death threats and harassment. Stopping the wedding art has cost us much of our business, so much so that we are now struggling to make ends meet and keep the shop afloat.”
“It’s hard to believe that the government is forcing me to choose between providing for my family and employees, and violating my relationship with God,” he continued. “That is not freedom. That is not tolerance.”
But the ACLU pushed back on Phillips’ claims that he has a First Amendment right to refuse Craig and Mullins’ request.
“Businesses open to the public may not choose their customers,” ACLU legal director David Cole, who argued on behalf of the couple, said in a statement. “These laws ensure that everyone, including gay people, have the freedom to walk into a business and know that they will be treated the same way.”
Cole warned that a ruling from the Supreme Court against his clients would allow businesses nationwide to refuse service “based on who the customer is.”
“As we argued in court today, the justices have an obligation to defend the principle of equal dignity under the law for all Americans — including Dave and Charlie,” he continued.
Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom who is representing Phillips, said after the oral arguments she was “pleased to know that the court is considering both sides of this issue, and that dignity cuts both ways.”
“As Justice [Anthony] Kennedy suggested today during the argument, tolerance requires respect for those with whom we disagree, and Colorado has neither been tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips,” she said.
Waggoner called the state’s position before the court “so extreme,” and warned of the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling against Phillips.
“It said that the state could actually compel all kinds of artists—filmmakers, photographers, graphic designers—who are paid to express messages that violate their core identity,” she said. “This court has never, never compelled artistic expression, or political or ideological expression, and if it does so now, we will have less stability, less pluralism, and less diversity in our society.”