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'A First Amendment victory': Christian baker can refuse to make a cake for lesbian wedding, California court says
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'A First Amendment victory': Christian baker can refuse to make a cake for lesbian wedding, California court says

A Christian baker can refuse to make a cake for an event, such as a same-sex wedding, that conflicts with her religious beliefs, a California judge has determined.

In 2017, Cathy Miller — the owner of Tastries Bakery and Boutique in Bakersfield, California — was approached to bake a customized cake for an upcoming lesbian wedding. Because the event conflicted with Miller's Christian beliefs regarding the nature of marriage, she refused to lend her artistry to a customized cake. However, she did offer the couple, Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-del Rio, two alternatives: She could bake them a generic, pre-made cake that would not require her personal artistry, or she could recommend to them other bakeries which could accommodate their request.

Miller's attorneys at the Thomas More Society claim that after this "polite refusal," Miller was then "targeted by gay activists" and sued for discrimination by the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment.

In multiple lawsuits, the DFHE argued that, by denying the lesbian couple a customized cake, Tastries and Cathy’s Creations Inc. had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a California law passed in 1959 and since expanded to protect consumers against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or religion.

Paul Jonna, TMS special counsel and partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, noted that there is "a certain irony ... that a law intended to protect individuals from religious discrimination was used to discriminate against Cathy for her religious beliefs."

And, based on excerpts of cross-examination from the civil trial held in July, it appears that the state's attorneys did indeed "discriminate against Cathy," probing her about the depth and sincerity of her Christian beliefs. According to a statement from TMS, attorney for the state Gregory Mann even asked Miller whether she adhered to Old Testament dietary laws "in terms of not eating pigs, not eating shellfish, et cetera" in an effort to cast doubt on Miller's testimony that she does her "best" to follow "everything that the Bible says."

Despite the state's best legal efforts, Judge Eric Bradshaw of the Superior Court of California in Kern County ruled in favor of Miller. The DFHE "is barred by defendants' rights to Free Speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution from enforcing the Unruh Civil Rights Act to compel or prohibit defendants' speech," Bradshaw's ruling said in part.

TMS, which provided legal counsel to Miller pro bono, has celebrated the ruling as "a First Amendment victory."

"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," said Charles LiMandri, special counsel at TMS and partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP.

Miller has always insisted that she never meant to discriminate against anyone. She wanted only to run her business in accordance with the precepts of her religion. Back in 2017, she told news reporters, "Here at Tastries, we love everyone. My husband and I are Christians, and we know that God created everyone, and He created everyone equal, so it's not that we don't like people of certain groups. There is just certain things that violate my conscience."

The Associated Press reported that Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-del Rio expect the decision to be appealed.

Below is a news segment from July about the civil trial:

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