Photo: Jared Polis. Credit: U.S. House of Representatives.
A Colorado baker who asked the Supreme Court last year to rule that he can refuse to to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples has once again thrown himself into the political fray by appearing in an ad opposing an openly gay gubernatorial candidate.
Jack Phillips, the owner of the Lakewood-based Masterpiece Cakeshop, appeared in a now-deleted web ad opposing the candidacy of Democrat Jared Polis, an openly gay congressman from the Boulder area. The ad was produced by the Family Policy Alliance, a right-wing group that advocates for traditional social policies such as opposition to abortion, divorce, and the recognition of LGBTQ rights.
The ad was first reported on by LGBTQ Nation, but has since been removed from YouTube. The corresponding pages on the Family Policy Alliance’s website talking about the ad have been scrubbed, as had a page containing a copy of a Family Policy Alliance press release. Clicking on a screenshot of the ad now reroutes to a fundraising page.
“Assaults on Jack’s faith, and yours, could get even worse if Boulder’s own Jared Polis becomes governor,” the ad said, adding that Polis would “appoint even more radical members” to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission if elected and alleging that the congressman, who is Jewish, supports “hostility toward Jack’s faith.”
According to INTO, Family Police Alliance President and CEO Paul Weber released a statement in conjunction with the ad saying that voters’ choice for Colorado governor “will impact Jack Phillips and other people of faith in Colorado — and beyond — for years to come.”
“The country watched as the Supreme Court ruled against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, condemning them for their hostility toward Jack’s faith,” Weber said in the now-deleted statement. “Now they are watching again to see if Colorado voters will say ‘Enough is enough — I will stand with Jack.'”
Phillips has been engaged in a longstanding fight with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found that he had discriminated against Charlie Craig and David Mullins when he refused to bake a wedding cake for them. The baker claimed that he deserved to be exempt from Colorado’s nondiscrimination law prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodations based on a person’s sexual orientation, citing his personal religious beliefs opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Phillips subsequently appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which found in June 2018 that the Civil Rights Commission had not taken seriously Phillips’ concerns about violating his religious freedom.
The court pointed to a comment by a member of the commission that compared religious beliefs opposing homosexuality to religious beliefs cited by people to defend the institution of slavery, saying this showed a kind of “hostility” towards Phillips’ religious beliefs that violates his constitutional rights. As a result, the court reversed the commission’s finding that Phillips had violated the public accommodations law.
But the Supreme Court’s decision in that case is not binding, meaning that were Phillips to be sued for discrimination again, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission could again find he violated the law and — so long as they treated his concerns fairly and avoided inflammatory language — set up another decision that Phillips’ lawyers would then appeal to the Supreme Court asking for a more definitive ruling on religious exemptions based on the merits of the case.
Phillips is currently being investigated by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for a separate incident where he refused to make a joint birthday and “gender transition” cake for a transgender woman. And once again, he is arguing that his religious beliefs should exempt him from having to abide by Colorado’s nondiscrimination law, which also protects gender identity.
But LGBTQ Nation’s Alex Bollinger writes that any future case on whether businesses have a right to refuse to serve certain classes of people “partly depends on proving that [Phillips] was not motivated by bias against gay people” or a desire to discriminate, but his sincerely-held religious beliefs. As Bollinger notes, appearing in an ad targeting an openly gay candidate, or being seen as a partisan warrior, might be detrimental to Phillips’ attempts at portraying himself as a victim of persecution.