Owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop files lawsuit against Colorado governor, other state officials

DENVER — The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop and his attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Colorado officials, claiming the state has doubled down on its anti-religious hostility.

This move comes after a June 28 notification to Jack Phillips, the owner of the cake shop, by the Colorado Civil Rights Division that it had found probable cause to believe that Phillips and his storied cake shop violated a Colorado law that would require his business to create bake a cake for Autumn Scardina, an attorney who wanted to celebrate the anniversary of her transition from male to female. 

On June 26, 2017, Scardina called the cake shop and asked them to create a cake that was pink on the inside and blue on the outside to celebrate her birthday, which fell on the same day as the seventh anniversary of her transition from male to female.  

The shop employee said they would not make the cake based on their religious beliefs, Scardina claimed in a statement of discrimination filed in July 2017. The employee hung up the phone and when Scardina tried to call again, she was hung up on again, according to the complaint.

Scardina said the employee on the phone did not object to her request for a birthday cake until she said she was celebrating her transition.

The cake shop claimed in response to Scardina's filing that Phillips said he couldn't make between two and five custom cakes per week because of time constraints and that he doesn't support a message that "promote[s] the idea that a person's sex is anything other than an immutable God-given biological reality."

Phillips declined the request because the cake expressed messages about sex and gender identity that conflict with his religious beliefs, according to the ADF, which is representing him. The ADF is a nonprofit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, cited the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision in the determination that Phillips had again violated the law.

After the state found probable cause in the case involving Scardina, Phillips and his ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit late in the day Tuesday against the officials.  

This lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Colorado Civil Rights commissioners, the Division's director, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and Gov. John Hickenlooper comes just months after the Supreme Court ruled in Philip’s favor after he refused to an order to create a cake for a same-sex couple in 2012.

In the lawsuit, Phillips' attorneys claim he was "vindicated" by the Supreme Court's ruling, which only addressed some of the actions by the Civil Rights Commission. The court ruled 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips' First Amendment rights with its "clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection." The court said that the commission's "hostility" casted doubt on its ability to be impartial in the case.

"Colorado continues its practice of treating Phillips worse than other cake artists because it despises his religious beliefs and how he practices his faith," the lawsuit claims. It also says the state "rights the system against people of faith like Phillips."

“The Constitution stands as a bulwark against state officials who target people—and seek to ruin their lives — because of the government’s anti-religious animus,” it further says. “For over six years now, Colorado has been on a crusade to crush Plaintiff Jack Phillips… because its officials despise what he believes and how he practices his faith. After Phillips defended himself all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, he thought Colorado’s hostility toward his faith was over. He was wrong. Colorado has renewed its war against him by embarking on another attempt to prosecute him, in direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s ruling in his favor. This lawsuit is necessary to stop Colorado’s continuing persecution of Phillips.”

Phillips and his attorneys say that the defendants' interpretation of state statute is unfair toward Phillips and Masterpiece and the enforcement prevents them from "operating consistently with their beliefs."

They are asking a judge to grant preliminary and permanent injunctions to keep Colorado from enforcing its state statutes that they claim violates their rights and to find them unconstitutional.

In an interview Wednesday, Phillips says, as he has in the past, that he’s suffered financial losses and harassment as a result of the decisions by the Civil Rights Division.

“Death threats, vandalism, you name it. This needs to be put to a stop and that’s what we’re hoping the federal court can do,” he said. “Hopefully we can get this resolved quickly and people won’t be able to just come in and sue me for any cake I turn down.”

The governor's office said when reached Wednesday morning it did not have an official statement on the lawsuit. The attorney general's office declined to comment.

Rebecca Laurie, a spokesperson for the Civil Rights Division and Civil Rights Commission, said the department couldn’t comment on pending or active litigation. She directed Denver7 to a statement from the Civil Rights Division released after the Supreme Court decision.

This is a developing story. Stay with Denver7 for updates.

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