A California cake artist’s actions were not discriminatory when she referred a lesbian couple to another bakery and cited her Biblical belief that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman, a judge ruled last week.
Cathy Miller, who owns Tastries in Bakersfield, California, won what her lawyers at the Thomas More Society called a First Amendment victory.
California Superior Court Judge Eric Bradshaw ruled Oct. 21 against California’s Department of Fair Housing and Employment, which had brought the 2017 lawsuit against Miller in Kern County.
Miller’s “only motivation, at all relevant times, was to act in a manner consistent with her sincere Christian beliefs about what the Bible teaches regarding marriage,” Bradshaw wrote in his ruling. “That motivation was not unreasonable, or arbitrary, nor did it emphasize irrelevant differences or perpetuate stereotypes.”
Bradshaw’s verdict found that the plaintiff failed to prove that Miller intentionally discriminated against Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which provides protection from discrimination by business establishments on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion.
“There’s a certain irony there, that a law intended to protect individuals from religious discrimination was used to discriminate against Cathy for her religious beliefs,” Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society special counsel and partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, said in a statement.
“Cathy believes in the Bible,” Jonna continued, noting that Miller was “harassed by opposing attorneys for her adherence to its teachings.”
“The state was actually questioning the sincerity of Cathy’s faith,” Jonna said while adding that Tastries is adorned with Christian décor and plays Christian music over its audio system. “The fact that they called Miller’s open and sincerely held beliefs into question is almost as disturbing as quibbling over her status as an artist.”
“It’s been a long five years,” Miller said while emphasizing that she had no ill intent, but simply could not participate in the couple’s same-sex marriage by making a custom wedding cake.
“I’m hoping that in our community we can grow together,” she said, “and we should understand that we shouldn’t push any agenda against anyone else.”
“We applaud the court for this decision,” stated Thomas More Society Special Counsel Charles LiMandri, partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP. “The freedom to practice one’s religion is enshrined in the First Amendment, and the United States Supreme Court has long upheld the freedom of artistic expression.”
After the same-sex couple sued Miller in 2017, the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing asked the court to file a restraining order against Miller and her bakery, forcing the company to either bake same-sex wedding cakes or stop baking cakes altogether.
“My conscience doesn’t allow me to participate in certain activities that are contrary to my Biblical beliefs. I pray that we can all come to an understanding so that we can continue to get along,” Miller said at the time.
The Superior Court of California rejected the state’s petition in 2018 after Judge David Lampe concluded that Miller’s decision was protected under the First Amendment.