In 2016, I wrote about Colorado’s crusade to destroy Jack Phillips’ business over a thought crime. The state’s Civil Rights Commission had bored into Phillips’ soul and established that his refusal to create a specialty cake for a same-sex couple was driven by his personal animosity towards gay customers rather than his Christian faith.
Unelected officials began fining Phillips in an effort to put him out of business for being a Christian. I wrote about the case numerous times, and every time I was assured that his actions had nothing to do with “religious liberty” — a term almost always placed within quotation marks to intimate that it was a bogus concern. I was assured that it was constitutionally acceptable for a gay couple to force a man to create art that undermined his faith. I was assured the case against him would be a slam dunk for Colorado.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that so many assumed Phillips’ cause was a lost one. After all, legacy media had fostered a number of misconceptions about the case. Most noteworthy, news reports (and more importantly, headlines) created the impression that Phillips hadn’t merely refused to design an artistic cake with a personalized message that undermined his longstanding beliefs — the same beliefs Barack Obama and many other Democrats (but not all conservatives) were still pretending to hold when Mullins and Craig walked into Masterpiece Cakeshop — but that he had refused to sell gay costumers anything in his shop. It was untrue.
In the end, the 7-2 Supreme Court decision protecting Phillips from this attack was both heartening and welcome. But despite all the celebration by First Amendment advocates, it was also a narrow victory. The only real mistake the commissioners had made, according to the court, was openly demeaning their target.
It was then-commissioner Diann Rice, for example, who had compared religious liberty to Nazism and slavery. The fact that Colorado would not take similar cases against bakeries who refused to make specialty cakes for Christian customers (also a protected class) was another obvious example of its social activism. The Supreme Court found that Colorado didn’t display religious neutrality when punishing him for his beliefs, showing “a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs.”
The commission would not make the same mistake next time.