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Ex-Colo. official denies bias in same-sex wedding cake case

Author: P. Solomon Banda, The Associated Press - June 6, 2018 - Updated: June 6, 2018

Baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, at his shop June 4 in Lakewood, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor in a discrimination case. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A former Colorado civil rights commissioner whose remarks on religion were the basis of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday for a Lakewood baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple insisted Wednesday she has no religious bias.

Diann Rice acknowledged she made remarks cited by the high court when it ruled in favor of Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who refused to make the cake on religious grounds.

She said she wouldn’t have said anything if she’d known how her remarks would be used.

But she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that she made the comments after Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission already had ruled against Phillips and for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins.

“The attorneys for Masterpiece used my comments to their advantage, obviously,” Rice said. “It was used as it was used, and the ruling is what it is.”

“I have no religious bias,” said Rice, who said she was raised in Presbyterian and other Protestant faiths. “It wasn’t that my comments had any influence on the (commission’s) decision.”

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The high court found that the commission failed to adequately consider Phillips’ religious beliefs when it ruled against him for refusing to make the cake at his shop, saying he had violated state anti-discrimination laws that apply to business condict.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, said such laws “must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion” and, while not citing Rice by name, said her remarks and others by the commission showed anti-religious bias as it considered the case.

The court didn’t rule on whether people can avoid providing services to same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs.

Rice said she made the comment at a commission meeting on July 24, 2014.

“Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust, whether it be — I mean, we — we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination,” Rice said at the time.

“And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to — to use their religion to hurt others,” she said.

Rice, a retired human services worker, said she wanted to publicly state her reason for voting against Phillips.

“I wasn’t disparaging Mr. Phillips’ faith in any way. I was just saying that you can’t make excuses for discriminating. I don’t regret standing up for what I believe,” she said.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative Christian law firm that represented Phillips, didn’t immediately return a telephone message seeking comment on Rice’s comments Wednesday.

P. Solomon Banda, The Associated Press