Jack Phillips — the man at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court’s hotly debated ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop — is a good, decent, and honorable man.
You likely won’t discover that if you google Jack or his case. Instead, you’ll all too often find unflattering portrayals based on ugly stereotypes about people of faith.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’ve represented Jack for the past five years. During that time I’ve gotten to know him personally. What I discovered is a man of simple yet profound faith that impacts every aspect of his life. A man we’d all be lucky to call “friend”— and that I thankfully do.
My initial insight into Jack’s character occurred during my first visit to his shop. As he climbed out of an old clunker of a minivan, I engaged him in some idle chit-chat about minivans. He mentioned that he owns a “newer” one (still at least a decade old), but that he had loaned it to someone in need. Revealing my own sad materialism, I asked why he hadn’t lent out his run-down vehicle. He told me about a previous situation in which he agreed to lend a car to a family in need. As he drove to their house to drop off his clunker God convicted him that he needed to give them his best. He turned around, got his more reliable car, and dropped it off instead. He always lends people his best car now.
This is Jack. A man guided by a genuine faith that drives him to treat everyone — regardless of belief, background, or status — with love and respect.
You can see the authenticity of his faith in the way he treats his customers. Jack is reserved and quiet — a man of few words—until a customer enters his shop. He lights up then. He’s often on a first-name basis with his customers and chats them up like long-time friends. I marvel at how much Jack knows about each customer and how frequently people linger just to have a good conversation with someone who obviously cares.
Jack is right at home speaking with a diversity of people. He takes as much time getting to know the homeless people who frequent his shop as he does his paying customers. He always gives them a warm smile, a hot coffee, a delicious confection, and good conversation regardless of whether they can pay. He also makes sure their needs are met by recommending shelters and other homeless services that can help get them back on their feet. In typical Jack fashion, the first person he told that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear his case was one of his homeless friends who happened to be at the shop when the news came down.
The authenticity of Jack’s faith is also evident in how he approaches his artistic talents. From the moment he opened Masterpiece Cakeshop, he committed to using those talents in a God-honoring way. From this, Jack adopted a simple rule: He serves all customers but can’t create cakes that express messages or celebrate events that conflict with his faith.
Over the years, this rule has caused Jack to decline many cakes requests — including cakes disparaging gays and lesbians; cakes promoting atheism, racism, and indecency; cakes with anti-American messages; cakes celebrating divorce; and many more. For nearly two decades, he faithfully applied his rule to every request and never had trouble — until he declined to create a custom wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. That decision is what ultimately landed him before the Supreme Court.
Millions of good and decent people of faith — Christian and non-Christian alike — share Jack’s view that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Like Jack, they want to live authentic religious lives. But to do so, they need to have the freedom to be true to all the beliefs that are core to their religious identity, not just those the government deems acceptable.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court’s message to Jack Phillips and the millions of people who share his views on marriage is that they belong in our society, right alongside those who view marriage differently — that it’s wrong for the government to target and punish them for their beliefs.
And the court sent a message to the rest of us as well: that tolerance and respect for those who disagree with us remains a vital commitment in our society.
I wish you knew Jack. I think you’d really like him — if you just had the chance to get to know him over a coffee and brownie. Folks like him shouldn’t be harassed and punished by the government because of their faith. Just like the Supreme Court said.
Jeremy Tedesco serves as senior counsel and vice president of U.S. Advocacy and Administration for Alliance Defending Freedom.