Colorado has failed in its bid to have a federal judge exclude Masterpiece Cakeshop baker Jack Phillips from using a state law to access public records in his lawsuit against the state.
Courthouse News Service reported state Assistant Attorney General LeAnn Morrill complained Tuesday that the Colorado Open Records Act requests filed by Phillips “burdened” the state. Magistrate Judge Scott Varholak denied the state’s motion.
Phillips sued after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in June he was unfairly targeted for declining to make a same-sex wedding cake, charging Colorado continues to persecute him for his religious beliefs.
Varholak noted the “argument made by the state is that letting the plaintiffs use CORA will lead to a run-around.”
“But I’m not certain that’s accurate, because they’re requesting documents that are by definition ‘open record.’ They have to be requested, but they are open records,” the judge said.
He said if there’s a problem with the way the state law is being used, it’s up to the state legislature to fix it, not a federal judge.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in June was on narrow grounds that the Colorado state Civil Rights Commission did not display religious neutrality when it punished Phillips for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, violating his right to free exercise.
The Supreme Court condemned the state’s “hostility” to Phillips Christian faith. He presented evidence that several homosexual bakers has refused to print messages on cakes as requested by customers because they disagreed with the message.
In those cases, the state Civil Rights Commission pursued no punishment. But when Phillips refused to put a same-sex message on a cake, he was punished.
The state commission ordered him into a state re-indoctrination program.
The Supreme Court ruling, however, had no impact on the state of Colorado, which followed with a complaint that he refused to make a cake with a pro-transgender message.
He has explained he will sell cakes to anyone, but he won’t sell one with a message that conflicts with his Christian beliefs.
When the second complaint was announced, Phillips sued the state in return, claiming it is continuing to discriminate against him.
The magistrate granted a motion to stay discovery until the state’s attempt to have the case dismissed is decided.
Phillips’ lawsuit is against the state, its governor and individual members of the state Civil Rights Commission who publicly berated his Christian faith in the run-up to the first case.
Phillips, in his countersuit, seeks $100,000 in damages.
Meanwhile, a Colorado congressman has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the state commission.
And the state’s second prosecution of Phillips prompted James Dobson, the noted Christian psychologist and founder of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, to call for reform of the commission, decrying the new claim as “a continued attack on the First Amendment and religious freedom.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., had asked the Department of Justice to investigation and intervene.
“Both Mr. Phillips and Masterpiece serve everyone. All people – no matter who they are, what they believe or what protected class they belong to – are welcome in Mr. Phillips’ shop and may purchase anything available for sale,” the congressman argued. “But as a devout Christian, Mr. Phillips cannot create custom cakes the express messages or that celebrate events in conflict with his deeply held religious beliefs.
“We are a stronger as a nation because of the societal contribution of religious Americans like Jack Phillips. Mr. Phillips and other creative professionals should not be targeted by the government for living consistently with their deeply held beliefs just because an agency director or the government doesn’t like those beliefs.”
Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been working on Phillips’ behalf, said the state “is ignoring the message of the U.S. Supreme Court by continuing to single out Jack for punishment and to exhibit hostility toward his religious beliefs.”
“Even though Jack serves all customers and simply declines to create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in violation of his deeply held beliefs, the government is intent on destroying him – something the Supreme Court has already told it not to do.”