We often tell children they can become whatever they want when they grow up: doctor, lawyer, engineer, artist—anything they set out to be is within their reach.
Packed into that simple idea are the promises of liberty and opportunity that form the heart of the American experience. The Supreme Court’s ruling this Monday on my case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission,helped determine that people of faith remain free to pursue our chosen vocations.
My work at the cake shop is more than a way to make a living. Designing each wedding cake is an expressive act, as I create an artistic centerpiece that announces a couple’s union as a marriage and tells part of their story. My perspective and beliefs are inseparable from the work I create.
But after decades of developing my craft, my home state took it away from me. My case started in 2012 when I was asked to design a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. I politely declined that request because of my religious beliefs about marriage. But I told the customers that I would sell them anything else in my shop, or create a cake for them for a different event.
To understand my decision, you must understand my faith. I’ve been a follower of Jesus Christ for most of my adult life. My conversion began one night while I was driving home from work. In an instant, I sensed that my life wasn’t OK—that I needed to follow Jesus and his plan for my life.
Later that night, I told my wife I had just become a Christian. With a mixture of joy and surprise in her eyes, she looked at me and said: “Me too. Three days ago.”
From that moment, my entire life changed. Religion isn’t something I pick up on Sunday mornings only to put away during the rest of the week. My entire life belongs to Jesus, and I believe that everything I do should honor him. As the Bible says, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).
This means that when I operate my business, I am always mindful of whether God is pleased with what I create. That’s why even though I serve all people, I can’t design cakes that celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my faith. It’s also why I’ve declined requests to create cakes that celebrate Halloween or memorialize a divorce.
My beliefs about marriage come from my reading of the Bible. Describing marriage, Jesus said, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:7-8). This shows clearly that God intends marriage to be a union between a husband and a wife.
On the day I declined to create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage, I was simply living out the truth that I—along with millions of other Christians—have found in the Bible. The men who sued me say I discriminated against them. That’s not true. Declining to design something because of what it celebrates isn’t the same as refusing to serve people because of who they are. Those men are welcome in my shop today, just as they were in 2012. But I can’t create a cake that celebrates a view of marriage at odds with my Christian beliefs.
Colorado ordered me to stop designing wedding cakes unless I agreed to create cakes that celebrate same-sex marriage. Since I couldn’t turn my back on religious beliefs I hold dear, I was forced to shut down my wedding business.
That cost me dearly in financial terms—the wedding-cake business amounted to 40% of my income. But the worst part was being forced to abandon my craft of wedding-cake design.
My case was about a lot more than cakes and weddings. It raised questions that should trouble everyone. Can the government strip people of their careers because of what they believe about inherently religious issues like the meaning of marriage? Will devout Christians, Muslims and other believers be told that some professions are now off limits to them—along with their shot at the American dream?
In deciding my case, the Supreme Court ruled that the government was wrong to punish me for living out my faith. It also made clear that the government must respect my religious beliefs about marriage.
How the issue plays out for others, we’ll have to wait and see. But given the court’s ruling in my case, I’m optimistic.
Mr. Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo.
Wall Street Journal, Friday, June 8, 2018