by Mia Gradick • 4 min read
First Liberty recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Colorado Supreme Court on behalf of our clients Aaron and Melissa Klein. They are supporting Christian cake artist Jack Phillips, who is fighting a case very similar to theirs. He is challenging a Colorado law that forces him to use his artistic talent to express messages that violate his religious beliefs.
Jack specializes in creating custom cakes for special occasions, such as weddings. 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 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. But vindictive lawsuits and attacks against him continue.
Like Jack, the state of Oregon punished our clients Aaron and Melissa Klein 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.
A few years ago, First Liberty took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. At that time, the Supreme Court vacated the state court decision and sent the case back to Oregon officials and courts with a clear message: Aaron and Melissa Klein are “entitled to the neutral and respectful consideration” of their claims. The Court also said they deserve the same protection from religious discrimination afforded to cake artist Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado. Aaron and Melissa’s case worked its way again through the state courts. It is now pending at the U.S. Supreme Court for the second time, and we’re waiting to see what the court will do.
Our brief supporting Jack Phillips points out that a government could not compel a parade to accept an unwanted float, and it also could not compel a float to participate in the parade. In the same way, we argue that “the government cannot compel a consumer to buy a custom cake from a particular cake baker or compel the cake baker to create a particular custom cake for the consumers.” Our attorneys explain:
“Coercing speech from small business owners will not lead to the utopian marketplace…Instead, it will destroy the lives of creative artists and reduce the quality of markets for everyone. Aaron and Melissa Klein know this all too well, for they have experienced the personal and professional devastation that results when the government forces family business owners to choose between their faith and their livelihood.”
We also remind the Colorado Supreme Court that government compelled speech runs afoul of the values and principles of the Constitution:
“A world where local governments can require artists, entertainers, writers and producers to use their expressive gifts to communicate messages that violate their convictions is a world where the First Amendment has been rendered meaningless.”
Our Sweet Cakes by Melissa case—as well as Jack’s—are vital for religious freedom. Our case presents a vital question: Can the government compel Americans to create a message that conflicts with their deepest convictions? The answer, of course, is “No.” The Constitution’s protection of freedom of speech has always included the freedom not to speak the government’s message. It also safeguards religious Americans from being coerced by the government to create or express messages that would violate their beliefs. The Supreme Court has been holding onto this case and reviewing it since last September.
Please be in prayer for Aaron and Melissa as they wait for a response. The current term ends in June. A favorable ruling 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. We ask for your prayers for the Justices as they deliberate. Regardless of their judicial philosophy, we pray they agree that the government should not force Americans to convey messages that violate their deeply held religious beliefs.