Christian baker appeals to Colorado Supreme Court over gender-transition cake ruling

Lower court ruled baker violated anti-discrimination laws by refusing to create a cake celebrating a gender transition.

Updated: April 21, 2023 - 11:30pm

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Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling that he violated anti-discrimination laws by refusing to create a cake celebrating a gender transition.

Phillips and his attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a petition on Thursday with the state’s highest court. In January, the state Court of Appeals ruled in favor of attorney Autumn Scardina, who requested from Phillips a blue and pink birthday cake to celebrate transitioning from male to female. Scardina’s request was made in 2018 on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear a prior case involving Phillips. The nation’s highest court ruled the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the Free Exercise Clause when it ruled Phillips must design a wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage, which conflicted with his Christian religious beliefs.

After the phone conversation where Phillips declined to make the gender-transition cake for Scardina, the attorney called a second time requesting another custom cake depicting Satan smoking marijuana, according to legal documents. Phillips declined both requests because the cakes expressed messages that violate his core beliefs.

“The request was a setup,” the 29-page petition states. "Five years before, Scardina emailed Phillips twice - calling him a ‘bigot’ and a ‘hypocrite.’ Scardina also emailed the (Colorado Civil Rights) Commission, volunteering to become a complainant against Phillips.”

The petition argues the Appeals Court decision conflicts with its other rulings interpreting the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. It also argues the court incorporated and misinterpreted federal law to find Phillips violated state law.

Phillips’ attorneys also argue the Colorado court decision is contradictory to constitutional principles affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, including precedents involving free speech.

“The court below wrongly applied a much stricter test with a new element, holding that the requested cake is not speech because its message ‘would not be attributed’ to Phillips,” the petition states. “But whether the cake is speech does not turn on whether others would attribute its message to Phillips. No one thinks a driver endorses the motto on his government-issued license plate.”

The attorneys concluded the petition by emphasizing the length of Phillips’ litigation.

“Phillips has been in court over a decade defending his right – and the right of all Americans - to create freely,” the petition states. “And he’s faced hostility at nearly every turn. That must stop. People of faith - like anyone else - should be ‘fully welcome in Colorado’s business community.’ They should not be forced to choose between their faith and their art. Protecting Phillips here will keep Colorado diverse and free for all.”