Masterpiece Cakeshop baker back in court over 2nd LGBT bias allegation

(The Associated Press file photo)

In this June 4 file photograph, baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, manages his shop after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he could refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs did not violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination law in Lakewood.

The state of Colorado is settling its legal dispute with Masterpiece Cakeshop and its owner, Jack Phillips, over the shop’s refusal to make a custom cake for a transgender woman, Attorney General Phil Weiser announced Tuesday.

The two sides agreed to end their state and federal litigation, Weiser’s office said.

The state and Phillips have been battling for years over his refusals to design custom products for LGBTQ customers. Phillips has said that would violate his religious beliefs, and everyone can buy noncustom products at his Lakewood shop.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission unanimously agreed to dismiss the state administrative action against Masterpiece and Phillips, and the bakery owner is dismissing his federal case against the state.

Attorney Autumn Scardina, a transgender woman, tried in 2017 to get Masterpiece to make a blue cake that was pink on the inside to celebrate her male-to-female transition. The shop refused, citing religious beliefs, and Scardina filed a complaint with the state Civil Rights Division.

The division issued a finding June 28 of probable cause that the cakeshop had discriminated against Scardina because she is transgender. It ordered the matter to be settled through mediation. In October, the Civil Rights Commission issued a formal complaint against Phillips.

Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit in August against the division, the commission and Colorado’s governor and attorney general, citing a state “crusade to crush Plaintiff Jack Phillips because its officials despise what he believes and how he practices his faith.” The suit sought $100,000 in damages from division Executive Director Aubrey Elenis.

Phillips’ attorneys said he “believes as a matter of religious conviction that sex — the status of being male or female — is given by God, is biologically determined, is not determined by perceptions or feelings, and cannot be chosen or changed.”

This January, U.S. District Senior Judge Wiley Daniel ruled that the lawsuit could proceed, as Phillips demonstrated that state actions caused injury.

Weiser, as attorney general, represented the Civil Rights Commission and the Civil Rights Division’s director in the dispute.

Now that the cases are dropped, Weiser said, “The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them. Equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state’s and nation’s civil rights laws.”

The new agreement does not affect Scardina’s ability to pursue a claim of her own, but she could not be reached Tuesday to comment.

Phillips’ 2012 refusal to make a custom wedding cake for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last June overturned a ruling by the Civil Rights Commission that Phillips had discriminated against a same-sex couple. The court found that the commission had not exercised its “obligation of religious neutrality.”

That ruling was narrowly tailored to how the state handled the Masterpiece case, so it didn’t set a precedent on religious beliefs as a defense for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Alliance Defending Freedom on Tuesday described the state settlement as a “victory for Jack Phillips.”

“The state of Colorado is dismissing its case against Jack, stopping its 6½ years of hostility toward him for his beliefs,” said Alliance Defending Freedom’s Kristen Waggoner, who argued on Phillips’ behalf at the Supreme Court.

“Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a diverse society like ours. They enable us to peacefully coexist with each another. But the state’s demonstrated and ongoing hostility toward Jack because of his beliefs is undeniable.”

But the law must prevail, said a statement by Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, an advocacy group for LGBTQ Coloradans.

“No matter who you are, who you love, or what you believe, Coloradans across our state — including LGBTQ Coloradans and their families — are still protected under Colorado law from discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations. ... (Businesses) do not get to pick and choose who they offer those products or services to. The very narrow ruling by the Supreme Court in Masterpiece vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission does not change our country’s long-standing principle that businesses open to the public must be open to all.”

In January, a state bill aimed at reimbursing Phillips for his legal expenses died in a state House committee.

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