The ever-embarrassing Colorado Civil Rights Commission strikes again, this time spiting itself to the point of retreat. Cake artist Jack Phillips is free at last, thanks in part to newly elected Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser.
If the Southern Poverty Law Center cared about all hate groups objectively, it would list our state’s Civil Rights Commission. Then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a righteous defender of rights for LGBT individuals and other minorities, admonished the commission last year for intolerance and disregard for religious liberty.
For background, the court ruled June 4 in favor of Colorado cake designer Jack Phillips and against the Civil Rights Commission. The commission had punished and ridiculed Phillips for declining to design a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. Phillips sued, and the Supreme Court sided with him.
In writing the court’s majority ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Civil Rights Commission, Kennedy minced no words:
• “The commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment…”
• The commission showed “a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs” of Phillips.
• “Another indication of hostility is the different treatment of Phillips’ case and the cases of other bakers…”
• The commission engaged in “official expressions of hostility to religion…”
• “When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.”
• “The commission’s actions here violated the Free Exercise Clause” of the First Amendment. And more.
This was never about support of, or opposition to, the decision by Phillips to decline the cake-design order. At issue was the state’s punishment of Phillips for his religiously based conscientious objection to taking the contract.
One of the court’s contentions involved a statement by former Civil Rights Commissioner Diann Rice, made during a hearing that led to the state’s abuse of the First Amendment.
“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…”
The ignorant statement reveals a lack of historical knowledge. Fully enforced freedom of religion and religious identity would have saved Jews in Nazi Germany. Religion led William Wilberforce, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley and other Christians to initiate the abolitionist movement on a basis of religious objections to slavery. Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. did more to ease discrimination than anyone throughout American history. Besides, a commission so opposed to discrimination had no compunction discriminating in words and deeds against Phillips and his values. That’s odd.
Court liberals and conservatives called the Rice comment “inappropriate for a commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s antidiscrimination law…” It noted concern that no fellow commissioners objected to anything Rice said.
Tuesday, the world learned of new statements by civil rights commissioners. Not only did they decline to object to Rice, as noted by the court. Commissioners outright agreed with her, just days after the court’s informed ruling.
“I support (Rice) and her comments. I don’t think she said anything wrong,” said Commissioner Rita 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,” Commissioner Carol Fabrizio said.
Lawyers for Phillips discovered the vacuous statements while suing the Civil Rights Commission for its latest assault on their client’s civil rights. Nearly one month to the day after Phillips won in the Supreme Court, the Civil Rights Commission punished him for declining to design a cake to celebrate an activist Denver lawyer’s gender transition. The same attorney taunted Phillips by demanding a cake celebrating Satan.
Phillips filed a federal lawsuit against the commission claiming it led a sustained “crusade to crush him” on a basis of his religion.
With emergence of the new discriminatory comments, Phillips’ lawyers and AG Weiser struck a deal. Phillips will drop the lawsuit, and the state will drop charges regarding refusal of the gender-transition cake demand.
Both sides, said Weiser, “agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases.” Good call, though Phillips had the law on his side.
Free speech requires freedom from compulsory expression. Freedom of religion requires state neutrality on matters of faith. Those who don’t get these fundamental legal principles — or don’t like them — should not judge and enforce our civil rights.