February 07, 2018
Here are three words you don’t usually see in the same sentence: “religious liberty” and “California.” But thanks to Superior Court Judge David Lampe, that’s exactly what one Christian is celebrating in a battle over religious freedom and wedding cakes. For the first time ever, a court ruled in favor of the baker, Cathy Miller, for turning down an order for a same-sex wedding because her faith “will not allow me to participate in things that I feel are wrong.”
It’s a familiar story by now, the clash between conservative wedding vendors and same-sex couples, this time — with a different ending. Like other bakers, Cathy was bracing for the day when the debate would end up at her front door. After reading the horror stories of families like Aaron and Melissa Klein, she knew it was only a matter of time before her shop, Tastries Bakery, would become a target of an intolerant minority set on eradicating religious freedom in the market place. That day came last August, when Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio wanted to contract Cathy for their ceremony. When she told them she’d happily sell them a pre-made cake, they refused — leaving the shop and heading straight for the California Department of Fair Housing. There, officials took on their case with a vengeance, launching a formal investigation into Miller and slapping her with a temporary restraining order that would force her to bake cakes, which, in days past, would be considered a form of indentured servanthood.
Facing the loss of her bakery, she and the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund fought back. Although the odds were stacked against her, the law was not. In a powerful rebuke of the status quo, Judge Lampe rejected the Left’s argument that personal offense trumps conscience. The right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment outweighs the State’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace,” Lampe wrote. “The right of freedom of thought guaranteed by the First Amendment includes the right to speak, and the right to refrain from speaking. Sometimes the most profound protest is silence.”
Obviously, he explained, no one can refuse to sell something to a customer out of prejudice. But, he reminds everyone:
“The difference here is that the cake in question is not yet baked. The State is not petitioning the court to order defendants to sell cake. The State asks this court to compel Miller to use her talents to design and create cake she has not yet conceived with the knowledge that her work will be displayed in celebration of marital union her religion forbids… Such an order would be the stuff of tyranny.” What’s more, he points out, Cathy — like the Kleins, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman — not only offered the women something from her display case, but “provided for an alternative means for potential customers to receive the product they desire through the services of another talent” by recommending another bakery.
Would this court, Lampe asked, “force a baker who strongly favored GLBT rights to create and design wedding cake she had refused to Catholic couple, in her protest of the Catholic Church’s prescription against same-sex marriage? The answer is, ‘No.’ This court has an obligation to protect Free Speech, regardless of whose foot the shoe is on.” It was a refreshingly honest — and rare — defense of the Constitution in a debate that’s been as one-sided as the Left’s definition of tolerance.
“Both sides,” Judge Lampe admits, “advocate with strong and heartfelt beliefs, and this court has duty to ensure that all are given the freedom to speak them.” But, he explains, “The court cannot guarantee that no one will be harmed when the law is enforced. Quite the contrary, when the law is enforced, someone necessarily loses. Nevertheless, the court’s duty is to the law. Whenever anyone exercises the right of Free Speech, someone else may be angered or hurt. This is the nature of free society under our Constitution.”
FRC’s director of our Center for Religious Liberty, Travis Weber, hopes this paves the way for other judges to follow suit. “The ‘offense card’ cannot be used to dismiss or marginalize the good faith opinions of fellow Americans — many of which are currently being manifested in free speech and religious liberty cases — just because one does not agree with them. Indeed, tolerance of such differences is one of the hallmarks of our democracy.”
For Christians, who’ve been on the receiving end of some devastating decisions, this is the first of what we hope will be a successful string of religious freedom rulings — headlined, of course, by Colorado’s Jack Phillips. As the Supreme Court deliberates over Masterpiece Cakes, they couldn’t find a better primer than Judge Lampe’s.
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.