Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision in favor of Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. The establishment was at the center of a religious freedom case after Mr. Phillips declined to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
He was brought before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled against him, and he was forced to take “sensitivity training.”
The religious freedom legal aide organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) took up Mr. Phillips’ case, bringing it before the Supreme Court where he was ultimately vindicated. The case achieved national headlines and became a focal point for religious business owners, professionals, artists, and many others.
The following is an interview with Mr. Phillips and ADF senior counsel Jim Campbell in which topics covered are the build-up to the case, the outcome, and what it means for religious freedom.
Q: How has your business been affected by the court-case?
Mr. Phillips: Six years ago before the two gentlemen came into my store, I had a good wedding cake business with ten employees, doing what we wanted to do – which is create cakes for special events. We would serve anyone who came in the door.
These two gentlemen came in the door asking me to do a cake for a wedding ceremony celebrating a view of marriage that didn’t agree with my faith’s view of marriage. I told them that I could not make a cake for that event, but I would be happy to make a cake for any other event that they desired. I just could not do this one.
As they left, they swore at me, shouted at me, and later started a social media campaign against me. I started to get hateful phone calls right after that. I’d say within twenty or twenty-five minutes of them leaving, the phone started ringing and I started getting hateful emails.
My life turned upside down with so much hatred coming toward us. There was a point where my wife and daughter were afraid to come to the the shop because they didn’t know what to expect.
They eventually launched a lawsuit against us through the Colorado state Civil Rights Commission, which we lost. The commission ruled that I had to change my policies, start creating cakes for same sex weddings against my deeply held religious beliefs. I had to retrain my staff to show them the error of my ways, my philosophy. The staff included my Mom, who was eighty-nine years old. She just retired a couple of years ago. My daughter, my wife, other family members, and friends had to be retrained.
I had to give up my wedding business completely which was forty percent of our business at the time. I had ten employees and that took me down to four, including myself.
It’s been a crazy ride all the way through and to get this ruling, this last week, was really thrilling. It was a great day for us.
Q: When it was time for the ruling, were you confident? Did you have any doubt, or did you think it could go the other way?
Mr. Phillips: I wasn’t expecting the ruling. Everyone insinuated that it would be the last week of the [SCOTUS] term, which is still a week away. I just happened to be watching SCOTUSblog live and when I saw the text go by, “we have Masterpiece,” my first thought was, “Is there another Masterpiece?”
I realized it was us and I called my wife to tell her it looked like we won. I was stunned.
Q: Did you receive a lot of support and well-wishes from the public at-large?
Mr. Phillips: Oh yeah. People stream into the shop all the time just to say “hi” and they’re so happy to see that the [Supreme] Court saw what was going on and ruled in our favor. I’m getting phone calls and emails from all over. It seems that people are really thrilled with the outcome.
Q: Going back a bit, the Supreme Court does not always agree to hear these cases. What was your reaction when you heard that the Highest Court in the land agreed to take up your case?
Mr. Phillips: They took it the last day of the session that year. I saw on SCOTUSBlog, “Masterpiece Cakeshop has been granted.” I honestly couldn’t breath. I couldn’t have even called my wife, it was too difficult to speak. It’s difficult for me to think about it now, it’s so powerful.
When we actually got out to D.C. to see the Court, it was a really sobering experience. It’s not just the Highest Court in the land, but one of the most important places in the world.
Q: Some people have said that the Supreme Court kicked the freedom of expression and freedom of speech can down the road even though they ruled in your favor. Do you agree with that assessment, or do you think it was the correct ruling in this case?
Mr. Phillips: As far as I’m concerned, I think it is a complete win.
Q: Mr. Campbell, do you agree? Do you think it was a complete win for religious freedom and freedom of speech?
Mr. Campbell: I do think it was a complete decision in this case. The court ruled as far as it needed to go. It looked at this case and saw hostility toward Jack’s faith, and it found that it was overwhelming. Based on religious freedom grounds, it struck down what the commission had done to Jack and given the hostility that was toward his faith, that it all had to go away.
The decisions swept it all away. It didn’t remand it back to the lower courts to do anything with it. It really was a complete victory for Jack.
I think you are correct that the decision leaves open for another day the artistic freedom, the freedom of expression issues that we raised, but the court didn’t say anything in its opinion to foreclose raising those arguments and deciding them in the future.
What’s also important to notice is that two of the concurrent justices went out of their way to make it clear that they in fact agree with our freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Those were Justice Thomas and Justice Alito.
The last point I would emphasize is that, to those who say the decision doesn’t extend beyond Jack’s case are ignoring something very critical. In finding so much hostility to Jack’s faith, the state of Colorado were not equally applying their law. While they were willing to punish people like Jack, they were declining to pursue other cases where bakers were refusing to bake cakes for people who wanted cakes criticizing same-sex marriage.
That same unequal treatment of these laws is being imposed by the rest of these commissions throughout the country. We think that aspect of the case is going to benefit many other professionals who are just trying to work in a way that is consistent with their beliefs.
Q: Mr. Phillips, where do you go from here now that it is over? Are you breathing a little easier?
Mr. Phillips: With everything that happened over the past few weeks, we’re just trying to keep our heads above water. We’re taking it day by day.
When we opened the cake shop close to twenty-five years ago, we just wanted to create wedding cakes. Now that we’re looking at doing that again, we need to get a larger crew. Like I said before, we lost a large part of the team we had before. Before we get back into it, I need to get bakers, decorators, and so on. It wouldn’t be like tomorrow that [we] get started, but we’re looking forward to starting back up.
Q: Mr. Campbell, just to expand on this again, we had justices from both sides of the aisle rule in this case. What do you think the ripple effect will be for freedom of expression and religious freedom?
Mr. Campbell: It’s undeniably a win. The court made it clear that the state was wrong to punish Jack for living out his beliefs. That hostility toward religion or people of faith has no place in a pluralistic society like ours.
It also made clear that the government must not only tolerate, but also respect the religious beliefs about marriage held by Jack that marriage is between one man and one woman.
I think that for religious freedom, this is a huge win. Again, on the artistic and expressive freedom, the court did leave that question for another day, but it didn’t say anything that detracted from our position on that. That is that all business professionals are created equal, that they should be free to live according to their beliefs.
Q: Last question, Mr. Philips, what do you want the other bakers, photographers, or just everyday people to take away from your experience?
Mr. Philips: First of all, like I said before, Masterpiece Cakeshop serves everyone who comes through the door. I will serve anyone, but I will not make a cake with a message that I disagree with. And I’m grateful to the Supreme Court for ruling in our favor, [allowing] creative professionals to live and work according to our beliefs without fear of punishment. Stand firm and do what’s right.
Mr. Campbell: One point that a lot of people miss is this freedom we talk about for creative professionals, this freedom is for everyone. Just like Jack shouldn’t be forced to make a cake that violates his beliefs, a lesbian cake artist shouldn’t be forced to bake a cake with a message that opposes same-sex marriage.
Likewise, a Democrat shouldn’t be forced to bake a cake with a Republican message. It goes the same for speechwriters.
I think one of the things a lot of people do with this case is they think it’s only a protection for religious people. Certainly the ruling on our religious freedom claim the court [ruled] on focuses on that in particular, but going forward, this artistic freedom point is for everyone. It is for the people on the Left as much as it [is] for people on the Right.
To find out more, visit the ADF’s webpage dedicated to the case.