The legal group battling on behalf of a Christian baker in Colorado says the state civil rights commission has chosen to drop its most recent charges against Jack Phillips in light of new evidence of the state's continuing hostility toward religious freedom.
"The state's demonstrated and ongoing hostility toward Jack because of his beliefs is undeniable," says attorney Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom.
Waggoner is referring to newly discovered statements from a public meeting in June 2018 during which two members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission voiced support for the following statement by Diann Rice, a previous member of the Commission, made in 2015:
"I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing … in the last meeting [concerning Jack Phillips]: Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust, whether it be …. I mean, we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination, and to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use … to use their religion to hurt others."
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and attorneys representing Phillips said they mutually agreed to end two legal actions, including a federal lawsuit Phillips filed accusing the state of waging a "crusade to crush" him by pursuing a civil rights complaint over a so-called gender transition cake.
Phillips' attorneys dubbed the agreement a victory for the baker. Weiser, a Democrat, said both sides "agreed it was not in anyone's best interest to move forward with these cases."
More from The Associated Press
At the June 2018 meeting – when commissioners were discussing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Phillips' favor handed down just days earlier – Commissioners Rita Lewis and Carol Fabrizio indicated they had no problem with Rice's 2015 remarks and supported her contention:
"I support [Rice] and her comments. I don't think she said anything wrong," stated Lewis.
"I also very much stand behind [her] statements … I was actually proud of what she said, and I agree with her … I think it was the right thing," said Fabrizio.
ADF had filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Phillips when the state continued to prosecute him for his beliefs – even after the Supreme Court decision in which the high court had sternly condemned Rice's remarks. But today the Commission dismissed its case against Phillips, which the state launched after the Christian cake artist was accused of discrimination when he refused to design a cake to celebrate a gender transition.
"This is the second time the state has launched a failed effort to prosecute him," Waggoner concludes. "While it finally appears to be getting the message that its anti-religious hostility has no place in our country, the state's decision to target Jack has cost him more than six-and-a-half years of this life, forcing him to spend that time tied up in legal proceedings."
Overwhelming evidence of gov't hostility
ADF attorney Jim Campbell says overwhelming evidence of government hostility may have been a factor in Colorado's decision on Tuesday to drop its lawsuit against Phillips.
Phillips became a household name for a U.S. Supreme Court case over his religious objection to designing a same-sex wedding cake. Phillips got a ruling in his favor, but a few weeks later, the state of Colorado came after Phillips again after a Colorado attorney had asked Phillips to create a cake with a pink-and-blue design to celebrate a so-called gender transition.
"Jack declined that request," notes Campbell. "Because of his religious beliefs, that was not something he could help celebrate – and as a result the state made it clear they were coming after him again they thought he was violating the law by not creating that cake."
In response to that renewed effort to prosecute Phillips, he and his attorneys at ADF filed a federal lawsuit against Colorado to get the state to stop prosecuting him. Then came Tuesday's announcement that the state of Colorado was dropping its case.
"The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them," said Attorney General Phil Weiser (D-Colorado) in remarks published by The Washington Times. "Equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state's and nation's civil rights laws."
Campbell found that comment revealing. "To me, that's one of the attorney general's reasons for why he decided to stop prosecuting Jack Phillips," he tells OneNewsNow. "We think that one of the other things that influenced his decision is that, as our federal case went forward, we kept finding more and more evidence of the state's hostility towards religion."
As recently as last week, ADF found that two current commissioners of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had publicly stated that they agreed with prior comments that the Supreme Court condemned in its first decision (see above).
"Those comments said that religious freedom is a 'despicable piece of rhetoric' and compared the religious beliefs and attempt to protect the religious freedom of people like Jack Phillips to arguments made by slaveholders and Nazis and those sorts of comments were explicitly endorsed by two of the current commissioners," explains Campbell.
"That sort of evidence, which, again, we had found significant amounts of evidence of anti-religious hostility, it was just continuing to mount. And I think personally that that was one of the things that influenced the state to give up on its prosecution of Jack."
After Colorado announced it was dropping this latest case against Phillips, he dropped his lawsuit against Colorado.
3/6/2019 - Section containing comments from attorney Jim Campbell added.