In a historic victory for religious liberty, a state superior court in California ruled that a Christian baker was within her rights to refuse a request to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony.
Cathy Miller owns and operates a bakery called “Tastries” in Bakersfield, California, and in 2017, she received a request from a same-sex couple who asked for a custom wedding cake for their vow renewal ceremony.
Miller declined the request and even referred the couple to another baker who would be willing to fulfill the order. When the couple asked Miller why she refused to create their cake, Miller explained that the message of the cake violated her Christian beliefs.
The couple found another baker to make their cake, but they still filed a claim of discrimination with the state of California against Miller. The state then sued Miller.
Every artist and business owner, whether they are religious or secular, has every right to refuse to express a message that they disagree with. Miller gladly serves all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. She simply won’t promote an ideology that violates her deeply held beliefs with a celebratory cake.
Thankfully, Superior Court Judge J. Eric Bradshaw reaffirmed Miller’s First Amendment right to free speech and ruled that she had not discriminated against the couple. Miller often served, and even employed, individuals living an openly homosexual lifestyle. Her refusal had nothing to do with the customers, only with the request itself.
Judge Bradshaw also concluded that baking a wedding cake qualifies as speech. “The right to freedom of thought protected by the First Amendment includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all,” the judge wrote.
“The Constitution looks beyond written or spoken words as mediums of expression, and the cases have recognized that the First Amendment shields acts such as saluting a flag (and refusing to do so), wearing an armband to protest a war, displaying a red flag, and even marching, walking or parading in uniforms displaying the swastika,” he continued.
“The evidence affirmatively showed that defendants’ wedding cakes are pure speech, designed and intended – genuinely and primarily – as an artistic expression of support for a man and a woman united in the ‘sacrament’ of marriage, and a collaboration with them in the celebration of their marriage.”
“The wedding cake expresses support for the marriage. The wedding cake is an expression that the union is ‘marriage,’ and should be celebrated,” he added.
Unfortunately, the decision will likely be appealed by the state of California, but another very similar case provides an opportunity for the First Amendment rights of business owners to be upheld nationwide.
Christian graphic designer Lorie Smith, is challenging a Colorado law that forces her to design websites for same-sex couples, and her case is being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. A victory for Smith would provide nationwide protection of the constitutional right of creative professionals to refuse to promote a message at odds with their deeply held beliefs.
In the meantime, Miller’s victory is worth celebrating. It is a significant win for religious liberty in California, and in the case that it’s challenged again, Smith’s case before the Supreme Court in December acts as another source of hope.