BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A California judge has handed Christian cake artist Cathy Miller a crucial victory in court.
Last week, Superior Court Judge David Lampe ruled that forcing the Tastries Bakery owner to create a "gay wedding" cake would violate her free speech rights.
Miller can now "continue to use her artistic abilities and talents in designing and creating wedding cakes only for marital couples that consist of one man and one woman," Attorney Charles LiMandri told Church Militant, "in conformity with her sincerely held religious beliefs based on the biblical concept of marriage."
The case began last August when a lesbian couple asked Miller to design a cake in celebration of their nuptials. Owing to her religious conviction that marriage is a sacred union of one man and one woman, Miller declined. The couple filed a complaint with the State of California, alleging discrimination. The state then sought a court order to compel Miller to create custom cakes honoring same-sex marriages.
But in his decision, Judge Lampe found that "The right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment outweighs the State's interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace."
"The State is not petitioning the court to order defendants to sell a cake," he explained. Instead, "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," ruled Judge Lampe.
On Tuesday, Church Militant spoke with Miller attorney Charles LiMandri, president and chief counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, about the ruling's implications and what to watch for next.
Though LiMandri expects Judge Lampe's decision to be appealed, he noted that the case sets a precedent for other small-business owners of faith. Looking ahead, LiMandri spotlighted an "almost identical" case now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission pits Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips — like Cathy Miller, persecuted for obeying his Christian convictions — against gay activists accusing him of discrimination.
LiMandri described Masterpiece Cakeshop as "very important for all people who take their faith seriously." The San Diego-based attorney told Church Militant:
We are hoping for a broadly worded decision that protects our right to conscience in conformity with the First Amendment guarantees to the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech. We need to watch if the U.S. Supreme Court issues what appears to be a favorable decision but one that is so limited to the facts of the Masterpiece Cake case that it will provide little protection to the Christians in general. For example, will the government agency have to show overt hostility in their statements in going after Christians, as they did with Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece Cake case, before their conduct will be viewed as unconstitutional?
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Masterpiece Cakeshop in June. LiMandri is hopeful the justices will follow the Tastries Bakery precedent "and rule similarly in favor of all Christian bakers."
Whatever the outcome, LiMandri noted, Christians and other Americans of faith can't become complacent, as further attacks on religious liberty are coming.
"Our opponents will not tolerate any dissenting views to their redefinition of marriage as requiring only two consenting adults regardless of gender," he warned. "They will continue to attack people of faith by filing 'anti-discrimination' lawsuits against Christians, particularly those involved in the wedding industry unless they are willing to celebrate same-sex 'marriages' with them."
"Therefore, we can expect more such lawsuits as this one unless the U.S. Supreme Court puts a stop to them. There will undoubtedly also be efforts to strip the tax exempt status from any organizations, including churches that will not recognize same-sex 'marriages,'" he added.
"As we predicted, the U.S. Supreme Court opened up a Pandora's Box when it legalized same-sex 'marriage,'" LiMandri reflected. "It made it much easier for homosexual activists to seek to normalize their behavior and demand that everyone celebrates their unions."
"Unfortunately, this problem is not going away anytime soon, and we can expect the persecution of Christians by gay activists and secularists to only intensify in the future," he told Church Militant.