Former Civil Rights Commissioner Diann Rice Speaks Out: ‘I Don’t Have Any Regrets’

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<p>Jacquelyn Martin/AP</p>
<p>Mary Torres of Falls Church, Va., left, with her daughter Maria Torres, and Eugene Delgaudio, holds up a rolling pin in support of cake artist Jack Phillips, while outside of the Supreme Court, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017.</p>
Photo: Masterpiece SCOTUS 5 | SCOTUS Protesters - AP
Mary Torres of Falls Church, Va., left, with her daughter Maria Torres, and Eugene Delgaudio, holds up a rolling pin in support of cake artist Jack Phillips, while outside of the Supreme Court, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017.

Diann Rice had a clue that something was happening with comments made during her tenure in the Colorado Civil Rights Commission years before they were argued in court. She had seen the legal team backing baker Jack Phillips post soundbites and videos online.

So when the Supreme Court's Monday ruling on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case cited her words?

"I wasn’t completely surprised," Rice said.

The former Colorado civil rights commissioner, whose remarks on religion were the basis of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling for a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, insisted she has no religious bias and wouldn't have said anything if she'd known how her remarks would be used.

Diann Rice acknowledged she made remarks cited by the high court when it ruled Monday in favor of Phillips, a suburban Denver baker. 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."

In a telephone interview with CPR News, Rice repeatedly stated that she has an appreciation for faith, but takes no excuses for discrimination.

"My point being that using any excuse — whether its faith or anything else — using any excuse as a justification or excuse for discrimination is not right," she said.

Rice said she is registered as an unaffiliated voter, not as a Democratic or a Republican. She added that she's "not always" a liberal, saying it depends on the issue and the person, and that she can "see both sides of many things."

"I’m not a NRA member, but I understand the people who are proponents of the Second Amendment," Rice said as an example.

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 Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, said anti-discrimination 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 made the comment at a commission meeting on July 25, 2014, almost two months after the commission had ruled that Phillips had violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act on May 30.

"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. 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."

Rice told CPR News she doesn't regret what she said, just that she caused the Civil Rights Commission "undue problems."

"That’s my only regret, because I know during the legislative session they had some tough times with reauthorization, and that's too bad," she said. "I did not mean to cause them any trouble."

As for the negative attention the case has drawn to her, Rice isn't afraid to face it. The priority for her is that the case does not significantly roll back gay rights.

"If my comments allowed for the narrow ruling, that only affected one case and don’t have precedent for all our LGBTQ rights in Colorado, I’m ok with that," she said. "I’m willing to take the heat if we aren’t setting civil rights back."

Rice doesn't expect her infamy to last for long, saying, "Six months from now, nobody will even have an idea (who I am)."

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

CPR News reporter Ryan Warner contributed to this story.