A Colorado ‘Cake Artist’ Bakes Up a Big First Amendment Case for Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (McClatchy Washington Bureau/TNS) -
Colorado cake, Supreme Court
Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorating a cake in his store in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

A self-described Colorado “cake artist” who refused to bake a cake for an event that opposes his religious beliefs has served up a potential Supreme Court blockbuster pitting freedom of speech and religious liberty against equal-treatment guarantees.

With rookie Justice Neil Gorsuch on board, the Court said Monday that it would consider the highly anticipated First Amendment case in the term that starts in October. The dispute arises from Gorsuch’s home state, and will provide an early test for how the conservative newcomer balances competing values.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, will also provide an important test for how the court’s slim and reconfigured conservative majority will handle these tricky First Amendment claims.

Almost certainly, the case is the first in which lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court with citations from “The Essential Guide to Cake Decorating.”

Cake artist Jack Phillips brought the case after an administrative law judge and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission concluded that he had violated the state’s anti-discrimination statute when he turned down a request to bake a cake for an event he opposes on moral grounds.

“Because of the artistry associated with custom cakes, Phillips … honors G-d through his work by declining to use his creative talents to design and create cakes that violate his religious beliefs,” Phillips’ attorneys wrote.

Citing those same religious beliefs, the attorneys noted that “he declines lucrative business by not creating goods that contain alcohol or cakes celebrating … other messages his faith prohibits, such as racism (or) atheism.”

Phillips is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorneys also represented Missouri-based Trinity Lutheran Church in its successful challenge to the state’s refusal to provide the religious organization with a playground grant.

A date has not yet been set for the oral argument.