Colorado baker at the center of a Supreme Court case takes no guff from Duff Goldman

Duff Goldman is an artist. If you’ve seen only a single episode of Ace of Cakes on the Food Network — or a single picture of one of Duff’s custom cakes — then you know that what Duff creates is not simply cake. It’s art.

The website for Charm City Cakes — Duff’s shop — highlights the artistic creations of Duff and his design team: “cakes with sound, cakes with smoke, cakes with motorized moving components, life-sized baby elephant cakes.” From a Thomas the Train cake to a striking representation of Yoda, Duff’s custom cakes are crafted not just with flour and fondant but with creativity, skill and passion.

As a fellow cake artist, I’m an admirer of Duff’s work. That’s why I was particularly disappointed to see his recent op-ed (“Charm City Cakes’ Duff Goldman: Bakers choose what, not whom, to serve,” Dec. 7) and its mischaracterization of my case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 5.

But before I explain why I disagree with the conclusions Duff reached about me, I’d like to focus on why I agree with the principles he expressed. The guiding principle Duff shared is that, as cake artists and business owners, we “can decide what we serve, but not who we serve.” Duff explained that we “have rules, set standards and decide what we offer, but we don’t pick and choose who we will serve.” I heartily agree. That’s been my philosophy since I opened Masterpiece Cakeshop more than 20 years ago. As a Christian, I have neither the liberty nor the inclination to discriminate. God calls me to love and serve all, and that’s what I seek to do. While I am unable to express all messages or celebrate all events, all people are welcome at my shop, and I am happy and privileged to serve them.

Although Duff and I agree on these principles, we see the facts of my case differently. In his op-ed, Duff invited me to get together in Baltimore and talk this out over some cake design. That would be an honor, and I extend the same invitation to him. In the meantime, I’ll explain what happened — and why.

Duff jokes that he wouldn’t take the “bizarre” step of asking people to “fill out a survey about all of their opinions and beliefs before agreeing to sell them a cake.” Neither would I. While I enjoy learning about the individuals I serve and have come to see my regular customers as an extended family, it would be both odd and pointless to seek out detailed information about every customer. But I absolutely want to learn about the event or message that I’m being asked to celebrate or communicate through a custom cake design. It wouldn’t be possible to create the best design without that information. And if that message or event is one that violates my sincerely held beliefs, I am compelled to respectfully decline the request.

I’ve declined requests to design custom cakes that celebrate divorce, disparage LGBT individuals, celebrate Halloween, or contain sexual images or messages. In every instance, my choice not to create a cake had nothing to do with the individual and everything to do with the message or event. If the sweetest little old lady entered my shop and asked for a cake celebrating divorce, I would politely decline. And if Charlie and David — the men who are suing me — came into my store tomorrow and asked for a custom birthday cake, I would be happy to sit down with them and design a cake to celebrate that occasion.

Duff said he doesn’t want a country “where people can be turned away for their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, or their gender identity.” Neither do I. That’s why my shop is open to all and why I am happy to serve everyone. But the State of Colorado insists on more than that, demanding that I surrender my First Amendment freedoms and create custom cakes celebrating events in conflict with my beliefs. I suspect that Duff would object if the government tried to do the same to him.

Jack Phillips, Lakewood, Colo.

The writer is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop.

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