Washington, D.C. – Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who went all the way to the Supreme Court over his religious objection to baking a cake for a same-sex wedding, spoke on a panel at the Department of Justice’s Religious Liberty Summit Monday on the “Promise and Challenge of Religious Liberty.” Phillips spoke just after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a special DOJ task force dedicated to protecting religious liberty. He discussed the importance of faith in his life and work and how that landed him at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Phillips explained that even before he opened his bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, faith shaped his decision-making and planning.
“I came to faith in Christ before I opened the bakery and it changed my life dramatically in every aspect,” he said, “the way that I wanted to raise my kids and treat my wife and knowing that I open a bakery someday how I would treat my employees. It also helped determine what kind of cakes we would do. My wife and I sat down at the beginning and said these are the products that we create, these are the products that we can’t create. That included for Halloween, we didn’t want to celebrate Halloween.”
He emphasized that that was “a huge financial decision to make because in the cake business graduation is the biggest business, biggest season of the year then Christmas, then Halloween, but to decide not to do that was a tremendous financial decision.”
Phillips also closed his shop on Sundays and said he declined to make cakes with disparaging messages, including a request from one person to make a cake saying his boss was a jerk.
“It’s the message of the cake I evaluate not the person ordering the cake,” he said.
In 2012, Phillips informed Charlie Craig and David Mullins that he wouldn’t make a cake for their same-sex wedding due to his religious beliefs. The couple went to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission who agreed that Phillips was violating the state’s anti-discrimination law and ordered Phillips to bake the cake or stop making wedding cakes altogether. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in June 2017.
Phillips remembers the day he found out the Supreme Court had taken up his case. He said he was watching his computer for Supreme Court news like he did every Monday and “finally the last week of the session I’m watching my computer wondering if maybe they might put it off till the next session and I saw on there ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop has been granted’ and I honestly I really couldn’t breathe.”
After texting his wife and daughters with the news he became so excited he told a homeless person who was in his shop all the time.
“I say ‘hey I get to go to the Supreme Court,’” he recounted laughingly, “he says yeah I got to go to court on Wednesday.”
In June 2018, the court ruled 7-2 in favor of Phillips, finding that the Commission’s treatment of Phillips “violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.”
In his opinion, Justice Kennedy pointed out that in Phillips’ case, "the commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation."
When asked to comment on that commissioner’s comparison, Phillips called it “stunningly insulting.”
“For the Commission to compare that decision of not violating my faith to especially the Holocaust was particularly personally insulting because my father served in World War II,” he said.
“He landed on Normandy, he fought across France and Germany,” Phillips said. “He got a purple heart because of a mortar attack which they sent him back to England, patched him up, sent him back into combat in Germany and he finished the war there but he also was a part of a crew that liberated one of the first concentration camps, Buchenwald, a concentration camp in Germany and for this commissioner, the chairman of the commission to compare the decision not to violate my faith and create a cake portraying this message that was so antithetical to my belief about marriage comparing that to the Holocaust was just such an insult.”
Phillips shared some of the costs of taking the stand he did.
“Right away we started receiving hateful emails and phone calls,” he said, “to the point where I started answering the phone all the time instead of the girls having to do that because the calls were so vicious and vile and I figured I would handle all that.”
He said that he also received death threats and had to call the police in one case.
“True tolerance has to be a two-way street,” Phillips emphasized. “We’re thrilled that the United States Supreme Court ruled in our favor with this ruling solidifying religious freedom in our country but it’s not just for me, it’s for all of us that every American should now be able to live and work freely according to their conscience without fear of punishment from the government.”