BAKERSFIELD — A Bakersfield judge denied the State of California’s request to force a Christian wedding cake designer, Cathy Miller, to create a custom cake to help a lesbian couple celebrate their wedding.
To do so, said Superior Court Judge David Lampe, “would do violence” to her free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.
Miller is a member of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield.
The Feb. 5 decision came after the two sides argued their case for several hours before Judge Lampe Feb. 2 at the Kern County Superior Court. The lesbian couple, represented by California Department of Fair Employment and Housing attorneys, claimed Miller had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of characteristics including race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
Miller’s pro bono attorney from the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF), Charles LiMandri, disputed the accusation.
In the end, Judge Lampe agreed with LiMandri’s assessment. His judgment read:
“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 a public display case, open their shop, and then refuse to sell because of race, religion, gender, or gender identification.
“The difference here is that the cake in question is not yet baked. The State is not petitioning the court to order defendants to sell a cake. 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.”
An hour before the hearing, more than 250 supporters gathered with Miller outside the courthouse for a prayer rally. Bakersfield City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, Roger Spradlin, co-pastor of Valley Baptist, and other pastors led the crowd in prayer.
If the judge had decided against Miller, she could have lost her bakery she calls Tastries. Wedding cakes makes up 40 percent of her business.
There were some concerns that a handful of sign-waving protesters attending the rally might disrupt it, but coordinator Jonathan Keller, CEO of the California Family Council, was able to ease the tension by acknowledging everyone’s First Amendment rights.
“We have some people here today that disagree with us, but that’s fine. It’s part of the beauty of what it means to be in America,” Keller told the crowd. “The First Amendment that gives us a right to assemble, freely speak and freely practice our religion gives them those same rights.”
Miller used the rally as an opportunity to explain her perspective on the controversy and how her Christian faith influences how she runs her bakery.
“We are not here because of cakes or sexual orientation,” Miller explained. “Those are just the catalyst that have brought us together to face the real issue: religious freedom, our First Amendment rights, and the purpose of what we do.
“As a Christian, my heart and soul belong to Jesus; that cannot and will not change,” she asserted. “That is why I do what I do, and live by the convictions I have.
“Personally, I am incapable of doing something that knowingly would hurt or disrespect my Lord and Savior. It is as simple as that.
“I would hope that as Americans, we can respect each others’ beliefs and understand it is possible to live in a society where those that have strong religious convictions can honor God in every aspect of their life and work … and still love others who may not have those same convictions.
“At the same time,” Miller continued, “people who may not share the same convictions can still respect others and not force them into a situation where they must choose between their conscience and their life occupation.”
According to Daniel Piedra, FCDF executive director, where the case goes now is in the hands of the Department of Fair Employment. If the state continues to pursue the case against Miller’s bakery, Piedra is confident she will prevail.
“This is a significant victory for faith and freedom because the judge indicated in his ruling that the state cannot succeed in this case as a matter of law,” said LiMandri. “No doubt the California officials will continue their persecution of Cathy, but it is clear she has the Constitution on her side.”