DENVER —A federal judge has rejected Colorado’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Christian baker Jack Phillips, who has accused the state of targeting him based on his religious beliefs with its latest civil rights investigation.
Senior U.S. District Judge Wiley T. Daniel said the Colorado Commission on Civil Rights and Colorado Civil Rights Division Director Aubrey Elenis had shown evidence of “bad faith” by filing a formal complaint against him in October over his refusal to create a cake to celebrate a gender transition.
“The decision to pursue the discrimination charge occurred after Masterpiece I, and this decision by Director Elenis and the Defendant Commissioners supports the existence of bad faith,” Judge Daniel said in his Friday ruling.
Mr. Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, filed the lawsuit accusing the state of targeting him after the commission’s latest complaint, which was filed a few months after his Supreme Court victory in June over his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
In the case known as Masterpiece I, the high court ruled that commissioners had shown bias against Mr. Phillips by, for example, making derogatory comments about his religion, but stopped short of affirming the First Amendment rights of small business owners who refuse services for same-sex weddings.
The judge noted that the commission gave a pass to three bakers who had refused to serve a client requesting cakes with messages considered offensive, including those opposing same-sex marriage.
“[T]his disparate treatment reveals Director Elenis’ and the Defendant Commissioners’ hostility towards Phillips, which is sufficient to establish they are pursuing the discrimination charges against Phillips in bad faith, motivated by Phillips’ suspect class (his religion),” the 53-page order said.
Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Jim Campbell, who represents Mr. Phillips, said his client “can’t get a fair shake before the state commission.”
“A commissioner set to decide the state’s new case against Jack has publicly referred to him as a ‘hater’ on Twitter, one of several indications of the commission’s ongoing bad faith toward him and his beliefs,” Mr. Campbell said.
While denying the motion to toss the case, Judge Daniel ruled in the state’s favor by dismissing the claims against several defendants, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, Ms. Elenis, and the commissioners, leaving the attorney general as the sole defendant.
In June 2017, Autumn Scardina, a Denver lawyer, asked Mr. Phillips to create a cake — blue on the outside, pink on the inside — to celebrate the anniversary of her gender transition, which Masterpiece refused.
Ms. Scardina later asked him to create a cake with satanic themes, which he also turned down, according to ADF.
A commission investigation concluded in June that there was “probable cause for crediting the allegations of the charge that Masterpiece discriminated against Scardina in a place of public accommodation based on her sexual orientation,” a violation of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.
The state argued that Mr. Phillips would have made a blue-and-pink cake for other customers, while his attorneys argue that he objected to the message, not the client.
“The same agency that the Supreme Court rebuked as hostile to Jack Phillips has remained committed to treating him unequally and forcing him to express messages that violate his religious beliefs,” said Mr. Campbell. “Colorado is acting in bad faith and with bias toward Jack. We look forward to moving forward with this lawsuit to ensure that Jack isn’t forced to create custom cakes that express messages in conflict with his faith.”
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