Conservative Christian baker Jack Phillips. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
A Colorado baker has been fined by a district judge after he refused to bake a blue and pink birthday cake celebrating a trans customer’s transition.
Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop – which in 2018 won a narrow Supreme Court victory over its refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex couple – was sued by Autumn Scardina, a transgender lawyer based in Denver, Colorado.
Scardina filed a lawsuit after Phillips refused to bake her a cake in the colours of the trans flag. On Tuesday (15 June), Denver district judge A Bruce Jones ruled that Phillips had refused Scardina because of her status as a transgender woman, which is illegal. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine.
In his ruling, Jones said Phillips is “a devout Christian” who seeks to operate his bakery “consistently with his religious beliefs”.
However, the district judge noted that Phillips “chose to incorporate his business as a for-profit entity providing goods and services to the public”. The result, Jones ruled, is that Phillips is subject to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA).
Colorado baker Jack Phillips doesn’t believe it’s possible to be trans
Ultimately, the court found that Phillips denied Scardina “goods and services because of her transgender status” after he admitted he would have made a blue and pink birthday cake if she hadn’t disclosed the fact that she is a trans woman.
Phillips testified that he believes being trans is not possible and he told the court that he would not “celebrate somebody who thinks that they can” transition. The baker also said his decision to not bake the cake was “based on [his] religious beliefs concerning transgender status”.
Jones ruled that Phillips’ refusal to bake the cake “is inextricably intertwined with the refusal to recognise Ms Scardina as a woman”.
“The concept that a business can decide whether to make the requested item depending on what information the customer provides would establish the equivalent of a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ rule – LGBT individuals would be entitled to equal service only to the extent they do not request goods that reflect their identity as LGBT individuals (or at least do not inform defendants of that reflection),” the court ruling reads.
Jones went on to reject Phillips’ argument that applying CADA to this case would infringe on his religious freedom and his First Amendment rights.
Finally, he ordered Phillips to pay Scardina a fine of $500 – the maximum fine under CADA – to compensate her for his refusal to bake the cake.
Concluding, Jones argued that “context matters”, adding: “The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others.’ This case is about one such product – a pink and blue birthday cake – and not compelled speech.”
Phillips was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has been labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group promised to appeal Jones’ ruling and said it will “continue to defend the freedom moral Americans to peacefully live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of punishment”.
The court ruling is just the latest chapter in what has been a lengthy and complex legal battle for Masterpiece Cakeshop.
The company was first sued in 2012 when it refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. That case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in Phillips’ favour in 2018.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that the state violated “religious freedom” protections when it ordered Phillips’ bakery to stop discriminating against same-sex couples.
While that case was ongoing, Phillips claimed that he would “be happy to provide a variety of baked goods, including birthday cakes, to all members of the public, including LGBT individuals”.
Scardina brought her case after she called Masterpiece Cakeshop and asked for a pink and blue birthday cake. She went on to explain that the cake was supposed to celebrate her transition – which led to the business turning her away.