by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read
First Liberty recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Colorado Court of Appeals on behalf of our clients Aaron and Melissa Klein. They are supporting Christian cake artist Jack Phillips, who is fighting a case resembling theirs.
Similar to Aaron and Melissa, Jack specializes in creating custom cakes for special occasions, such as weddings. He is challenging a Colorado law that forces him to use his artistic talent to express messages that violate his religious beliefs.
An activist attorney who’s harassed and targeted Jack for nearly a decade submitted a request for a custom-designed cake, pink on the inside and blue on the outside, to reflect and celebrate a gender transition. Jack declined the request, because it would force him to convey a message in conflict with his religious beliefs. The attorney filed suit, claiming Jack was violating state “anti-discrimination” law.
Jack has been fighting in court for years, with the help of our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court granted him a victory in a similar case, in which Colorado tried to coerce him to create a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding. The Court held that state officials had been openly hostile toward Jack and reaffirmed the state cannot discriminate against Americans because of their religious beliefs.
The Kleins have also been fighting their case for about a decade. The state of Oregon also punished them for virtually the same reason. Why? Because their faith led them to decline to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. The state imposed a financially devastating $135,000 penalty against their business, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, which forced them to shut down their Oregon bakery.
Like Jack, the Kleins’ case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and twice received favorable rulings. The first was back in 2019, which returned the case to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop.
In June, the Kleins received a second favorable decision. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling against them and sent the case back once again to the state courts with clear direction: they must re-examine the Kleins’ case in light of the recent ruling in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, which held that government may not force creative business owners to speak messages that violate their beliefs.
Despite winning at the U.S. Supreme Court, Jack is still being attacked and targeted with vindictive lawsuits. His legal fight continues, as lower courts in Colorado still have not held that creating a custom cake is a form of speech protected by the Constitution.
Our recent brief explains that the creation of a custom cake is pure speech and should be fully protected under the First Amendment:
“The protection to which Phillips is entitled is in no way lessened by the fact that the cake was to be made from an edible medium…This Court should rule in favor of Phillips and protect his right to speak only those messages that align with his faith. The First Amendment demands no less.”
Our Sweet Cakes by Melissa case—as well as Jack’s—are vital for religious freedom. If they win, it could bring relief to countless Americans in the marketplace who face hostile treatment and the real threat of losing their business or their livelihood because of their beliefs.
Please be in prayer for Aaron, Melissa and Jack as they continue fighting in court. The search for sweet justice is not over. There’s a lot at stake with these cases.