I'm the Colorado Cake Artist, and I Believe in Artistic Freedom for All | Opinion

In my more than 25 years as a cake artist, I've kept a simple policy: I serve everyone, but I cannot create cakes that express every message or celebrate every event.

This policy is fairly common, really. As is true for many creative professionals, there are some messages I cannot express through my custom art—no matter who asks for them—because doing so would violate my core beliefs. While the views behind such decisions may vary depending on the artist, the principle protecting them is the same: Every person has the right to peacefully live and work consistent with his or her deepest beliefs.

A fellow cake artist, April Anderson, agrees with me. April creates cakes in Detroit, Michigan. One day, she received an online order for a cake that expressed a message she doesn't agree with. April identifies as a lesbian, and the cake she was asked to make expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. April felt that she couldn't express that message through her art.

That's a choice she has the right to make. Our Constitution protects the freedom of all Americans to express—and not to express—whatever they want, no matter whether others in the community or in the halls of government disagree with that expression. April has the freedom to choose the messages she will express through her custom cakes, and no government official should be able to force her to go against her conscience.

I've faced the situation that April faced, and I came to the same conclusion: I couldn't create a cake that expressed a message that went against my beliefs. So I politely declined the request, while explaining that I would be happy to sell or create other items for the customer. The customer wasn't the problem. The problem was the message that the cake expressed.

That was the issue for April, too. In an interview with the Today Show, she said that she felt uncomfortable creating a cake that expressed the requested message. After thinking about it for a while, she decided to create a cake for the customer, but not the cake he requested. She instead made a rainbow-decorated cake that expressed a different message.

So far, there are a lot of parallels between April's experience and mine. The principle is the same: Both April and I were asked to create a cake that went against our consciences, and we looked for other ways to serve the customer without compromising our beliefs.

Jack Phillips celebrating his 2018 Supreme Court
Jack Phillips celebrating his 2018 Supreme Court win Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

But from here, our stories diverge. April has received public praise for her decision to abide by her conscience. The interview with Today was very supportive and encouraging, and all the mainstream media that has covered her story has affirmed her decision to not express a message that she didn't agree with.

I had a very different experience. After I declined to use my artistic skills to express a message I didn't agree with, I ended up in court. In fact, I had to take my case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. All the while, I faced harassment and threats from activists for my beliefs—not to mention highly critical media attention.

Even though the Supreme Court ruled in my favor, noting in particular the hostility and unequal treatment I received at the hands of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, I've faced two more legal actions since then for making the exact same decision to choose which messages I express through my custom cake art.

On the same day that the Supreme Court decided to hear my first case, a local attorney called my shop to request a custom pink and blue cake that would celebrate a gender transition. The same attorney contacted me again a few months later to request a cake depicting Satan smoking marijuana. Those requests, much like the one April faced, appear to be set-ups. I declined both of them because those cakes express messages that go against my core beliefs.

Nobody should be forced to create or express a message he or she disagrees with. That includes me, and it also includes April. Even though our convictions about marriage are very different, we both have the same right to choose which messages we use our talents to express. And I support that right for every single American, no matter what he/she believes.

When my case was going up through the courts, three other Colorado cake artists were asked to create cakes that expressed a message of opposition to same-sex marriage. I supported them too, because even though we have different beliefs about marriage, we all have the right to choose what we express through our art.

Tolerance is a two-way street. I'll support your right to live consistent with your beliefs. All I ask is that people respect my right to do the same.

Jack Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.