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Colorado Baker Fined for Refusing to Make Cake for Transgender Woman

The Colorado baker who won a partial victory at the Supreme Court in 2018 after refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a birthday cake for a transgender woman, a state judge ruled on Tuesday.

In his ruling, Judge A. Bruce Jones of the Denver District Court found that the baker, Jack Phillips, had violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act when he denied Autumn Scardina’s request for a birthday cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside because she is a transgender woman. Mr. Phillips was fined $500, the maximum fine for a violation of the act.

According to court documents, Ms. Scardina was denied the cake only after she said the colors symbolized her transition, even though the bakery had already agreed that it could create a pink cake with blue frosting. During the trial in March, Mr. Phillips argued that his Christian beliefs prevented him from creating custom cakes that would “violate his religious convictions,” a First Amendment defense similar to his argument in the 2018 Supreme Court case.

Central to Judge Jones’s ruling is the idea that baking and decorating a cake in the style requested by a customer is not a form of “compelled speech,” meaning Mr. Phillips’s First Amendment rights were not at issue. According to the judge, the issue was not with the cake itself, but with the meaning Ms. Scardina imbued it with.

“Here, the refusal to provide the bakery item is inextricably intertwined with the refusal to recognize Ms. Scardina as a woman,” he wrote.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the group that has represented Mr. Phillips since his Supreme Court case, said on Wednesday that it would appeal the district court’s ruling.

Kristen Waggoner, an Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer representing Mr. Phillips, said in a statement that the group believed Ms. Scardina brought the suit to “test” Mr. Phillips.

“The decision represents a disturbing trend that we’re seeing where activists are able to weaponize the justice system to fully ruin those with whom they disagree,” Ms. Waggoner said in an interview. She added that since the first suit was brought against Mr. Phillips in 2012, he has suffered financial blows to his business, needing to cut his staff and limit his operations.

In his decision, Judge Jones rejected the notion that Ms. Scardina’s request was a “‘setup’ to initiate litigation.”

In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Scardina said the case “never really was about Mr. Phillips.”

“It’s always been about the principle,” she said. “And that’s a principle that’s been with us, sort of unchallenged in the last 80 years or so, since the civil rights battles of the ’60s: that a business needs to be open to all if they’re open to the public.”

“We all have the same right to the same cake,” she said.

The ruling on Tuesday comes as legal battles around transgender rights are being fought in state legislatures and courts across the country. According to data from the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy groups, over 100 bills that target transgender people have been proposed in state legislatures in the past year, with most focusing on limiting trans children’s access to sports teams and gender-affirming health care.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Phillips, saying that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which originally ruled against the baker for not making a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, had been shown to be hostile to religion because of the remarks of one of its members.

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