BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A Superior Court judge has ruled that the State of California cannot force a baker who identifies as a Christian to create cakes for same-sex “weddings” in violation of her faith. He differentiated between selling a generic product on the shelf with having to specially create a cake that celebrates an event that her religion prohibits.
“The State is not petitioning the court to order defendants to sell a cake,” Judge David Lampe noted in his ruling on Tuesday to deny the State’s request for a preliminary injunction. “The State asks this court to compel Miller to use her talents to design and create a cake she has not yet conceived with the knowledge that her work will be displayed in celebration of a marital union her religion forbids.”
“For this court to force such compliance would do violence to the essentials of free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment,” he declared.
As previously reported, two lesbian women, Eileen Del Rio and Mireya Rodriguez, who already “married” in December 2016, approached Cathy Miller of Tastries Bakery in August 2017 to request a same-sex “wedding” cake. Miller, who had the women try some of her cupcakes while present, offered to call another baker who could accommodate them as she herself could not be a part of the event.
“We’re Christians. We love everyone. God made everyone. It doesn’t matter the color [or] whatever. Everyone is God’s creation and I love everyone,” Miller told ABC23 News. “But, there’s certain things that violate my conscience and my conscience will not allow me to participate in things that I feel are wrong, and most of what that’s based on is Scripture.”
The women, upset that she had offered a referral instead of creating the cake herself, took to social media about the matter and later filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), which handles enforcement of the state’s civil rights law. Miller’s attorneys say that she received hateful messages and death threats as a result of the situation.
The DFEH soon Miller placed under investigation, sending her more than forty questions about her professional and personal life. The entity decided to take Miller to court over the matter, asking that it issue an injunction against Miller’s practice of declining to make cakes for same-sex celebrations.
“California respects and celebrates diverse religious beliefs and freedom of speech, but does not create exceptions to its civil rights laws to allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” Director Kevin Kish said in a statement.
“After a careful review of the preliminary facts, DFEH concluded that legal intervention was warranted to ensure equal access to services and prevent harm resulting from discrimination until our investigation is complete,” he outlined.
Judge Lampe denied the State’s request for an emergency injunction in December, advising that he wanted to allow time for Miller to respond. A hearing for a preliminary injunction was held last Friday, and according to Miller’s attorneys with the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, hundreds of Bakersfield residents gathered outside of the courthouse to pray for Miller prior to the hearing.
On Tuesday, Judge Lampe ruled in favor of Miller, and differentiated between not allowing a person to buy anything from one’s store because of their homosexuality, and being forced to create something that presents a message that is against one’s religion.
“The State’s purpose to ensure an accessible public marketplace free from discrimination is laudable and necessary public goal. No vendor may refuse to sell their public goods, or services (not fundamentally founded upon speech) based upon their perception of the gender identification of their customer, even upon religious grounds,” he wrote. “A retail tire shop may not refuse to sell tire because the owner does not want to sell tires to same sex couples. There is nothing sacred or expressive about a tire.”
“No artist, having placed their work for public sale, may refuse to sell for an unlawful discriminatory purpose. No baker may place their wares in public display case, open their shop, and then refuse to sell because of race, religion, gender, or gender identification,” Lampe continued.
However, “[t]he difference here is that the cake in question is not yet baked,” he noted.
“Would this court force a baker who strongly favored LGBT rights to create and design wedding cake she had refused to a Catholic couple, in her protest of the Catholic Church’s prescription against same-sex marriage?” Lampe asked. “The answer is ‘No.’ This court has an obligation to protect free speech, regardless of whose foot the shoe is on.”
“A wedding cake is not just cake in free speech analysis. It is an artistic expression by the person making it that is to be used traditionally as centerpiece in the celebration of marriage. There could not be greater form of expressive conduct,” he also noted. “The State asks this court to compel Miller against her will and religion to allow her artistic expression in celebration of marriage to be co-opted to promote the message desired by same-sex marital partners, and with which Miller disagrees.”
Lampe ruled that the State could not outweigh its interests with Miller’s free speech rights and noted that there were ample alternatives for the lesbian women as “Miller is not the only wedding cake creator in Bakersfield.”
“For the reasons stated above, the application for preliminary injunction is denied. The State cannot succeed upon the merits, and the balance of hardships does not favor the State,” he concluded.
Miller’s attorneys cheered the ruling upon its release.
“Cathy would never discriminate against anyone who walks through her bakery’s doors. She will gladly serve anyone, including same-sex couples,” said President Charles LiMandri. “But Cathy will not use her artistic talents to express messages that conflict with her sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage. We are pleased that the judge recognized that the First Amendment protects Cathy’s freedom of speech.”