Justice Ginsberg and Sotomayer were the dissenting opinions.
This is a decision that upholds the freedom of religion and the dedication to practice that religion. Frankly, it was never about the wedding cake, if the truth be told.
The liberal Left continue to push their radical agenda against American values. The good news is there is a solution. Find out more >>
Talk about culminations.
Waggoner will stand Tuesday before the nine justices of the Supreme Court and ask them to protect a Colorado baker’s constitutional right not to be forced by the government to create a custom cake celebrating a same-sex marriage—or any other occasion or sentiment that would violate his traditional Christian faith.
Waggoner, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, the prominent Christian legal aid organization, represents Jack Phillips. The owner of a family business in Lakewood, Colorado, Phillips became famous for declining to make a cake in July 2012 for two men for a local celebration of their upcoming marriage in Massachusetts.
One way or another, Waggoner has been at Phillips’ side since shortly after he politely turned down the couple’s order of a wedding cake while offering to sell Charlie Craig and David Mullins virtually any other baked good made by his Masterpiece Cakeshop.
The two men left in anger and soon filed a formal complaint, triggering hateful phone calls, death threats, and legal proceedings in Colorado against Phillips.
Those events eventually would intersect with the calling heeded by Waggoner, 45, when she was barely a teenager: defending the rights of religious individuals and institutions in America.
Now, Waggoner finds herself on the verge of making her first arguments before the Supreme Court, on behalf of Phillips, 61, and those she describes as countless other creative professionals committed to living, working, and expressing themselves in line with their faith—or lack of it.
Room for a Different View of Marriage
Phillips and other people of faith are defending their freedom as radical activists and government officials across the country wield nondiscrimination laws on the local and state levels in ways never intended by legislators, Waggoner says:
They’re being used to silence and to punish people who have a different view of marriage. It’s no longer about a government affirming a right and a recognition of same-sex marriage. It’s now about requiring private citizens to affirm that as well—which violates the core convictions of millions of Americans who subscribe to the Abrahamic faiths. It’s not just Christianity, it’s Judaism, Islam.
When the Supreme Court was weighing whether to recognize same-sex marriage in the landmark 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges, Waggoner reminds, advocates told people of faith that they had nothing to worry about, that their rights would be protected:
I think what’s so alarming is how we’ve gone so quickly from this concept of liberalism to, really, illiberalism. From tolerance to intolerance. … From ‘live and let live’ to … you either affirm my view or you’re branded as a bigot and you lose your business.
How is forcing Phillips to create a cake in violation of his conscience different than forcing an atheist singer to perform at religious service, she suggests, or requiring a Jewish artist to glorify the Holocaust?
Friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, show that “tons of people” who support same-sex marriage also support Phillips’ right to decline an order, she says.
“And that’s the right position, because that’s freedom for everyone, even those we disagree with. So it does an injustice to the case to suggest this is about same-sex marriage. It’s not. It’s about the right to live and to work and to speak consistent with your convictions, and not have the government tell you what to say.”
‘Part of a Bigger Story’
The Daily Signal’s interview with Waggoner occurs in her final week of preparing in Washington, D.C., for her Supreme Court appearance with fellow ADF lawyers defending Phillips. Among them are Jeremy Tedesco, who has logged many hours on the Phillips case, and her co-counsel, Jim Campbell.
Waggoner’s husband Benjamin is also a practicing attorney back home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Historically, his wife is a Seattle Seahawks fan, but these days relies on their three children—ages 9, 15, and 17—to keep her current with the football team’s progress.
In about an hour, she plans to be on a nightly 7:30 session on FaceTime with her third-grader son, a commitment while she is away.
Waggoner grew up as Kristen Kellie Behrends in Longview, Washington, about two hours south of Seattle and an hour north of Portland.
What she treasures most about her upbringing, Waggoner says, is that she was steeped in consistent values at home, church, and school that shaped her worldview without sheltering her.
Her father taught her from Scripture about “being an Esther, being a Deborah, used by God,” she says, and that “joy and fulfillment come from having a purpose that’s bigger than ourselves.”
“It’s not about us, we’re a part of a bigger story that has to do with helping human flourishing. And that just shaped my whole life, even now.”
A Defining Moment
Clint Behrends, a Christian pastor and educator, was principal of the school his elder daughter Kristen attended from first through 12th grade.
Waggoner has two younger brothers and a younger sister, two of them adopted but born brother and sister. Her mother, Lavonne Behrends, “thrived” at being a stay-at-home mom for the most part, but also worked part time in accounting-related jobs.
Once a teacher in public schools, today her father is a licensed minister in the Assemblies of God denomination. He is associate pastor of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Washington, and superintendent of an affiliated school system.
Young Kristen would go to the principal’s office to visit her father three or four times a day, sometimes because she got into trouble. In these encounters, he urged her to find and develop her talents, and apply them in a way that would honor God.
And one day, Waggoner recalls, she saw clearly that defending ministries and religious freedom should be her path. Although her “rebellious teenage years” were not yet behind her at 13, she never really looked back, Waggoner recalls in an interview with The Daily Signal.
“That’s what I thought God was impressing on me to do, and it matched with my skill set,” she says. “And it worked out.”
Waggoner’s father was the first college graduate in the family, and she became the second.
By choice, her entire education was in Christian schools. She ran cross country and played volleyball and basketball in high school, where she continued to be a good student and graduated as valedictorian in a class of 21.
She won a drama scholarship to go to Northwest University, a school outside Seattle affiliated with the Assemblies of God. She ended up doing debate, winning some tournaments and “best speaker” awards. She also played volleyball. (“That and the law are my two loves.”)
Then it was on to law school at Regent University in Virginia Beach, where she won “best oralist” and the Whittier Moot Court Competition.
What grabbed her about law?
“I think that the pursuit of justice is something that really motivated me, and taking stands on principles,” she says, adding: “But once you start working with clients and you experience being able to help individuals, when most of the time they’re at their low point, it’s very fulfilling.”
‘On the Tough End’
Right after law school, she clerked for Richard Sanders, a member of the Washington state Supreme Court. She first sought a summer job with him two years earlier because he practiced constitutional law, not knowing he was running for a seat on the court.
“The day I called him to follow up on the status of my resume was the day he was elected to the [state] Supreme Court,” she recalls. “He picked up the phone and talked to me for about 45 minutes.”
Nearly two years later, a few weeks out from graduation and planning to clerk for a federal judge in Virginia, she got a call from the law school saying a justice on the Washington Supreme Court had been looking for her for weeks. Sanders was hiring; she interviewed and got a clerkship there.
The law school graduate proved to be “up for the challenge,” Sanders, now back in private practice, recalls, and she worked hard to “get better and better.”
“This is exactly where she should be, and this is what she does best,” the former judge says of Waggoner’s current role. “I think she realizes that she’s on the tough end of those arguments.”
Sanders, knowing his law clerk’s interests, proved instrumental in urging her to look into the law firm where she would stay for 17 years.
Ellis, Li & McKinstry had a good reputation for its work in constitutional law in Seattle, not exactly a conservative bastion. It represented many large churches and religious organizations.
Sanders “consistently encouraged” her to go to work there, Waggoner recalls, rather than at a public interest law firm, to gain broader and deeper experience.
“My very first case was a religious liberty case,” Waggoner recalls, “which I don’t think is coincidental.”
‘A Lot Has Changed’
Ellis, Li & McKinstry also happens to be perhaps the nation’s largest private law firm made up of Christian attorneys, partner Keith Kemper tells The Daily Signal.
Kemper describes Waggoner as a tenacious but gracious advocate whose “incredibly strong work ethic” drives her to study up on the case at hand to learn more than her colleagues or opponents.
“She will be better prepared,” says Kemper, who supervised Waggoner in her early years with the firm. “She will know the material backward and forward.” More here from The Daily Signal.