DENVER — It’s shaping up to be a battle between religious rights and civil rights.
The owner of a Lakewood bakery accused of discriminating against gays appeared in civil court Wednesday.
A judge will decide if Jack Phillips violated discrimination laws—by refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple last summer.
Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig couldn’t believe it when Phillips refused them service.
They got angry. And they didn’t let it go.
Now, they’re hoping to force Phillips to change what they say is a discriminatory policy.
It was the happiest day of their lives.
Mullins and Craig tie the know in Massachusetts last September.
Now, they hope a judge provides what might be the second happiest day.
“Being discriminated against is a form of personal invalidation. It’s being degraded and put on a lower level than other people in society,” says Mullins about how humiliated he and Craig felt on July 19, 2012, when Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop told them his business doesn’t make cakes for gay weddings. He says Colorado doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages. And also that they’re (gay relationships) against his religious beliefs.
“I am a follower of Jesus Christ. So you could say it’s a religious belief. I believe the Bible teaches it’s not an OK thing,” is what Phillips told us last July.
The American Civil Liberties Union says it’s illegal for a private retail business open to the public to exclude customers–only private religious groups, like churches, have this right.
“It happened with race discrimination back in the day. It happened with sex discrimination. Over and over the courts say, ‘No, your religious beliefs, while important, do not trump discrimination laws,” says ACLU attorney Amanda Goad, who flew in from NYC to represent the couple.
But Phillips’ lawyer says creating cakes for gays not only violates his freedom of religion, but his freedom of speech.
“Everyone can agree weddings carry a certain message: spiritual, cultural, symbolic … and because it carries a message, under the First Amendment he (Phillips) has the right to say it or not say it,” says attorney Nicolle Martin.
She says by creating the cake, Phillips is the mouthpiece of a message he doesn’t believe in.
And Martin says the First Amendment trumps any sort of public accommodation statutes.
But it’s up to a judge now. Both feel the law is on their side.
“In his church and in his heart, he can hold whatever beliefs he wants. But a cake shop is governed by civil laws and not religious laws,” says Mullins.
While Martin uses an analogy to make her point. “The government can’t force us to drive around with license plates we object to,” she says.
If Phillips loses, he’ll have to change his current policy of not serving gays. He’ll have to post a notice in his story saying he serves everyone equally. And he’ll have to tell the state he’s taken care of this issue.
But Martin says they would appeal.
A decision is expected by the end of this week or early next week.