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Supreme Court to Review Case Involving Custom Cake Art and Religious Beliefs

Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop face legal battle over refusal to create gender transition cake

In a case that raises questions about artistic expression, religious beliefs, and anti-discrimination laws, the Supreme Court has agreed to review the lawsuit brought against Jack Phillips and his business, Masterpiece Cakeshop. The case revolves around Phillips’ refusal to create a custom expressive cake celebrating a gender transition, citing conflicts with his religious beliefs.

The controversy began on the same day the Supreme Court announced its decision to hear Phillips’ previous case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, back in 2018. Respondent Autumn Scardina approached Phillips and demanded a custom cake that would symbolize and honor a gender transition. Phillips, known for creating custom cakes based on the expressions they convey rather than the individuals who request them, politely declined, citing that the requested cake’s message contradicted his deeply held religious beliefs.

In response, Scardina filed a charge under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). However, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission dismissed the administrative complaint with prejudice. Instead of appealing the decision, Scardina initiated a new lawsuit, alleging an identical CADA claim against Phillips. The lower court ruled against Phillips after a bench trial, despite acknowledging that the requested cake expressed a message Phillips could not create for anyone, regardless of their identity. The appeals court subsequently affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Supreme Court’s review of this case will focus on three key questions. Firstly, whether Scardina’s CADA claim is barred due to her failure to appeal the Commission’s dismissal of the administrative complaint, as required by C.R.S. § 24-34-306(14), before proceeding to sue Phillips. Secondly, whether Phillips’ decision not to create a custom expressive cake celebrating a gender transition, a message he would not create for anyone, violates CADA’s prohibition on transgender-status discrimination. Lastly, the Court will consider whether the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids CADA from punishing Phillips’ refusal to create a custom cake that would express a message contrary to his religious beliefs.

The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications for the balance between artistic expression, religious freedom, and anti-discrimination laws. Supporters of Phillips argue that forcing him to create a cake that conflicts with his religious convictions would violate his constitutional rights. On the other hand, proponents of anti-discrimination laws assert that businesses must serve all customers regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As the Supreme Court prepares to deliberate on this significant case, its ruling will undoubtedly shape the legal landscape surrounding the intersection of religious freedom, artistic expression, and anti-discrimination protections. The decision will have profound implications for businesses, individuals, and the ongoing dialogue surrounding the rights and responsibilities of individuals with differing beliefs and identities.

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