Seven years after the Supreme Court decided that gay marriage was a constitutional right in Obergefell v. Hodges, the American judicial system is still making up its mind on whether small business owners — in particular, bakers and florists — must necessarily provide services to unions their religious beliefs forbid.
At least on Friday in one California courtroom, religious liberty prevailed.
According to The Associated Press, a judge ruled that a Bakersfield bakery owner who declined to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple and referred them to another baker wasn’t violating the state’s civil rights statutes because she was acting in accordance with her belief in biblical principles.
The state’s Department of Fair Housing and Employment sued Cathy Miller, owner of Tastries Bakery, because it claimed her refusal violated California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
“Miller’s only motivation, at all times, was to act consistent with her sincere Christian beliefs about what the Bible teaches regarding marriage,” Kern County Superior Court Judge Eric Bradshaw wrote in his decision, according to the Bakersfield Californian.
“That motivation was not unreasonable, or arbitrary, nor did it emphasize irrelevant differences or perpetuate stereotypes.”
BREAKING: Court issues 22 page decision ruling in favor of our clients, Cathy Miller and Tastries Bakery, following the bench trial we concluded this past July. CA cannot compel Cathy to make custom wedding cakes for same sex weddings. Glory to God! https://t.co/wmCWOD01hY
— Paul M. Jonna (@PaulJonna) October 21, 2022
Bradshaw’s decision was the latest development in a case that’s been percolating in the judicial system for some time: Miller refused to make the cake for the couple, Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio, five years ago.
“The case struck a chord nationally after the couple posted on social media that they had been told by Miller that her design standards ruled out making a cake celebrating their marriage,” the Californian reported.
“As word of her actions spread, the bakery received numerous rude messages, including pornographic emails. The Rodriguez-Del Rios also faced blowback, becoming the subject of an article containing fabrications.”
Kern County Superior Court decided in Miller’s favor initially, but that decision was vacated by the 5th District Court of Appeal.
The lawsuit was sent back to the county level. On Friday, the decision again went for Miller, with Bradshaw ruling that wedding cakes represent “pure speech” that represent explicit support of same-sex marriage.
“Defendants’ pure and expressive speech is entitled to protection under the First Amendment,” Bradshaw wrote.
In addition, the judge rejected the three options suggested by the state’s Department of Fair Housing and Employment. The state had posited that Miller could either offer its cakes to all customers, that it could stop selling wedding cakes altogether or she could allow her employees to manage the design and production of cakes that conflicted with her Christian views.
Bradshaw ruled that the business already offered its cakes to all customers, that refusing to bake wedding cakes would have a crippling effect on the business (it makes roughly one quarter of its revenue through wedding cake sales) and that not only was delegating wedding cake production to other employees not feasible, it stifled Miller’s speech.
Both the bakery owner and her lawyers celebrated the ruling.
Miller’s pro bono lawyers with the Thomas More Society, a pro-religious liberty organization, said the Supreme Court “has long upheld the freedom of artistic expression” enshrined in the Constitution.
In a news release, Paul Jonna, one of the lawyers in the case, said there was a “certain irony … that a law intended to protect individuals from religious discrimination was used to discriminate against Cathy for her religious views.”
“I’m hoping that in our community we can grow together,” Miller said after the ruling, according to the Californian. “And we should understand that we shouldn’t push any agenda against anyone else.”
Unfortunately, the state of California likely isn’t done pushing its agenda on Miller.
While the state hasn’t said whether it will pursue an appeal — a spokeswoman merely told the Californian it was aware of the court’s ruling — the couple in the case expect the DFHE to continue the legal fight against Miller.
“Of course, we’re disappointed, but not surprised,” Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio said, according to the Californian. “We anticipate that our appeal will have a different result.”
Keep in mind, Jack Phillips — the most prominent Christian baker to have the legal arsenal of the left arrayed against him — is still fighting battles in court, this time over his refusal to make a transgender-themed cake, according to the AP.
Phillips, who won a partial Supreme Court victory in 2018 after refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple, is this time fighting a man who called his Denver-area cake shop in 2017 and asked Phillips to design a confection to celebrate his transition from male to female.
Of course, this was a legal troll — but it’s one that, thus far, has been successful, with courts ruling that Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination statutes.
The fact we’re still even litigating whether Jack Phillips has the right to free religious expression is proof positive the First Amendment and Judeo-Christian values are under attack by those who find both to be inconvenient obstacles for societal transformation.
Courts thus far have not ruled with any consistency, and the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling on Phillips’ case — which hinged on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission specifically targeting the baker for his Christian beliefs and didn’t touch the larger issue of whether he had a First Amendment right to choose to decline to bake the cake in the first place — remains an unhelpful guide for lower courts.
It’s well past time that the judicial system made it clear what should have been evident from the start: Jack Phillips and Cathy Miller were acting in accordance with sincerely held Christian beliefs protected under the U.S. Constitution.
They need to be protected by the courts, too.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.
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