Editor’s Note: A former version of this piece misstated that attorneys trying the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission were hostile toward religion. This has been corrected to reflect that the case was dismissed because of the Commission’s hostility. Additionally, details about the Colorado baker’s actions when serving the couple have been added into the piece.
At first glance, the July 19 online order that Good Cakes and Bakes co-owner April Anderson received didn’t seem all that unusual. It appeared to be a request for one of the bakery’s rainbow-themed Pride month cakes because the word “PRIDE” stood out in all caps. Upon a closer look, however, Anderson realized she was gravely mistaken. The message read:
“I am ordering this cake to celebrate and have PRIDE in true Christian marriage. I’d like you to write on the cake, in icing, “Homosexual acts are gravely evil. (Catholic Catechism 2357”).”
“I was like, ‘This cannot be real,’” Anderson said. “Does he not know what bakery he called? [Who] he sent this to?”
Anderson is openly LGBTQ and owns the bakery with her wife, Michelle.
For several days, Anderson debated her options. She had no intention of writing the offensive message on the cake. Yet refusing to bake the cake made her concerned about discriminating against a client. The answer turned out to be rather simple — and within the bakery’s policies. Anderson would prepare the cake without the requested writing.
“I would be legally OK with doing that because it says on our website we don’t decorate cakes that’s placed online,” Anderson said. “You have to call the bakery for a decorated cake.”
Anderson did, however, include the requested rainbow theme.
A Hate Group in Our Midst
As it happened, the man who ordered the cake called the bakery the night before his scheduled pick-up date, Saturday, July 25. Anderson was not at the bakery, but she was notified by a worker.
“[She] called me and said, ‘There’s a guy calling about a red velvet cake but I don’t see an order for it,’” Anderson recalled. “And I said, ‘Oh, Mr. Gordon.’ I was like, ‘Let him know his cake will be ready tomorrow ‘cause it’s Saturday, 3:30. He said the cake was for an office party and he wanted to pick it up on time.’”
At the outset, Anderson had contacted a friend who traced the cake buyer, David Gordon, to an alt-right religious organization. A national group based in Ferndale, the Church Militant is a church in name only. Rather, it is an extreme right-wing 501(c)(3) nonprofit owned by St. Michael’s Media. By its own admission, Church Militant aims to convert non-Catholics to the faith and strengthen the faith of existing Catholics by bringing Jesus Christ to the internet through the use of digital media. Previously known as Real Catholic TV, the Archdiocese of Detroit has asked the organization to cease using the term “Catholic” to describe its activities. A recent article featured on the Church Militant website titled “The Gay Rainbow is the Mark of the Beast” was authored by Gordon, who ordered the cake.
Regardless of store policy, Anderson’s actions followed Michigan civil rights law, according to ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project Staff Attorney Jay Kaplan.
“If we go along with [Church Militant as] a religiously-affiliated organization, they were requesting a cake, [and] they were requesting a particular message on a cake,” Kaplan said. “Under our Michigan civil rights law regarding public accommodation, the bakery had to provide them that cake they requested.
“But I think an argument can be made that the message they wanted on the cake might have gone into the realm of compelled speech,” he continued. “The government … cannot necessarily compel a particular business to engage in compelled speech that [goes against] whatever their moral compass, their religious beliefs, their political, etc.”
Kaplan said he’s aware of situations where LGBTQ bakery owners in similar circumstances have provided the baked goods along with the materials for customers to decorate them as they wish.
Writing on a cake was not the central issue in the well-known Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. Kaplan went on to make the distinction.
“In that case, the same-sex couple were not asking for a specific message to be inscribed on the cake,” Kaplan said.
Instead, the baker turned them down because he knew the cake was for a same-sex wedding. He offered the couple any pre-made cake for purchase, but he argued that baking a customized cake amounted to compelled speech — endorsing same-sex marriage — which violated his religious beliefs. Others disagree: by providing a service, a business owner is not endorsing the lives of their customers.
But the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision did not address that issue. It did, however, reaffirm that when a business is open to the public, the business must serve the public — without exception. In addition, the state has an important interest in enforcing civil rights laws, including those that protect LGBTQ people. In the end, the Supreme Court overturned the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s ruling because the majority believed that the Comission had exhibited hostility toward religion and the baker’s religious beliefs when the case was tried.
“It didn’t address the issue about is this compelled speech and where do you draw the line,” Kaplan said. “What about a photographer who doesn’t want to take photos at a wedding between a same-sex couple? Eventually, one of these cases is gonna get back to the Court. It’s a big concern if we see everything as compelled speech, because how would we then enforce civil rights laws? How far does that slippery slope go?”
Word got out about the cake order and it wasn’t long before outraged community members took action. The friend Anderson had originally told about the order took the issue online. In a pro-LGBTQ Facebook group, he suggested creating a peaceful rally in support of Anderson on the afternoon that Gordon was to pick up the cake.
“I was very distraught,” Ferndale resident Oscar Renautt said. “We definitely wanted to show up and show support to the owner and even to the workers at that place. I felt [baking the cake] was the right thing to do … to counter what happened a few years ago when a couple was denied a cake by a baker. No one should be denied a cake, but obviously we were all upset that the Church Militant approached the gay community. The LGBT community is aware of their presence in Ferndale because this is not the first time they [have] lashed out.”
Anderson prepared the cake and included a letter “just explaining what our bakery stands for, who we are,” she said. “We don’t stand for hate, we’re all about peace and justice and inclusion.”
Almost 50 people gathered and social distancing was practiced. Saturday afternoon came and went, but Gordon never appeared. Like all online orders, the cake was prepaid: $40 — plus a $10 gratuity.
“I think he was trolling us and he wanted me not to make the cake so that he would have an argument about us being discriminatory against him for not making a cake,” Anderson concluded. “I think it shocked him when he called Friday and we said, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re making the cake.’”
Even though Gordon didn’t show up, plans unfolded to further show solidarity while supporters were still gathered at the bakery.
“I figured we need to do something to spread the awareness, because our community should know one of our own was attacked this way,” Renautt said. “But we are not ‘militant’ like these guys are. We are not militant as Church Militant. Our message is peaceful. We just want to make people aware that this happened. We want to drum up support for the Good Cakes and Bakes bakery.”
To that end, Renautt set up a GoFundMe page. It was decided that pro-LGBTQ signs would be (legally) posted within view of the Church Militant offices. Several hundred “We are not militant” and “Love is not militant” yard signs will soon be ordered, and Renautt said many nearby businesses have expressed interest in displaying them in a window or on their property. Any excess funds will be donated to Corktown Health Center, where Anderson’s wife works.
“This organization has been tormenting our community for a long time,” Renautt said. “For me, this is not something that our community should tolerate. I think we need to demonstrate our stance on this issue.”
The most recent word on Gordon was that he called the bakery Thursday, July 30, inquiring about the cake. By then it had been discarded. Anderson said she might need legal advice, “because I know he’s not done.”
Going forward, Anderson will continue to be outspoken and proud of who she is. This experience hasn’t deterred her — and it certainly hasn’t made the LGBTQ community shy away either.
“We’re not gonna change who we are,” Anderson affirmed about being openly LGBTQ. “We made it very clear when we opened. Some people are like, ‘Oh, we’re just not gonna tell people, we want to keep stuff separate.’ You can’t compartmentalize your life. We’re very, very proud, open.
“Last year was the first year that we put a big rainbow flag up in the window for the month of June and I know that … sales were down and I believe, personally, it had to do with that sign,” she continued. “We’re in Detroit, we’re in a predominantly Black city, a Black neighborhood. There is still, to this day … some phobia within the Black community of homosexuality. I’m not gonna be naïve about that. But, again, when we take a stand — as long as we’re happy with who we are, the decisions that we make — we stand by it, we’re OK with it.”
Good Cakes and Bakes is located at 19363 Livernois Ave. in Detroit and is reachable online at goodcakesandbakes.com or by calling 313-468-9915. See the website for hours (limited due to COVID-19) and delivery options. The shop’s fundraiser page is gofundme.com/f/god-is-not-militant.