The state of Colorado said last week that it is dropping the second case against Christian cake artist and bakery owner Jack Phillips.
The unexpected announcement came just one day before former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper announced he is running for president in 2020, leading some to wonder if the timing might be more than a coincidence.
Phillips is owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a small family business he opened in Lakewood, Colorado in 1993. Phillips was first targeted for his Christian beliefs six-and-a-half years ago, when he declined to design and bake a custom cake for a gay wedding.
“The first time Colorado officials came after Jack, they ordered him to create cakes celebrating a view of marriage that conflicts with his faith,” wrote Phillips’ attorney Kristen Waggoner. “That six-year ordeal was laced with government actions disparaging Jack’s religious beliefs. It also included unequal treatment: Colorado punished Jack for declining to create cakes with messages that he cannot in good conscience express, while allowing other cake artists—those whose views the state likes—to do the very same thing.”
The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phillips in 2018. Justice Anthony Kennedy criticized the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for its “clear and impermissible hostility toward sincere religious beliefs.”
Soon after the 7-2 ruling, however, the commission went after Phillips again, this time for being unwilling to design and bake a cake celebrating a “gender transition.”
“But this time”, wrote Phillips himself in a Denver Post opinion piece last week, “I wasn’t going to sit back and allow the state to prosecute me without a fight. I decided to push back. Through my attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom, I filed a lawsuit against the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, the commissioners on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and other state officials. I did this because no one should be driven out of business because of their religious beliefs.”
Last Tuesday, the commission suddenly announced they are no longer pursuing legal action against Phillips.
“After careful consideration of the facts, both sides agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases, Attorney General Phil Weiser said.
“The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road,” Weiser continued, “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.”
However, Waggoner believes the state of Colorado has misrepresented the decision to drop the case against her client.
“Colorado commissioners have every incentive to minimize their defeat or to describe it as a legal truce, but it isn’t,” Waggoner wrote. “Colorado has relentlessly pursued Jack for over six-and-a-half years, stripping him of 40 percent of his business and the wedding work he loves. But, now, the state’s harassment has come to an end.”
Local Denver radio personality Peter Boyles believes the state’s decision may have less to do with a legal defeat, and more to do with national politics.
Just one day after the commission stated it was dropping the case, former Democratic governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper made an official announcement that he is running for president in 2020.
“The minute that this guy says ‘I’m running for president’ then this case gets dropped,” Boyles said March 6 on his radio show.
According to Boyles, Phillips was set up and targeted by the commission with Hickenlooper’s blessing.
“He lead it, he gave it the green light,” said Boyles, who believes that Hickenlooper is now hoping to distance himself from the case. Boyles also criticized the news media for failing to ask hard questions and report on what he claims is more than a mere coincidence.
As for Phillips, he is just anxious to get back to normal life.
“Here’s hoping that we as a nation learn to tolerate and respect our differing beliefs and that governments stop harassing people whose faith they dislike,” wrote Phillips. “If that happens, then maybe, just maybe, I can go back to being just a cake artist.”