Government lawyers in California filed a new lawsuit this month against Christian baker Cathy Miller despite a state court’s rejection of an earlier attempt to force Miller to bake custom wedding cakes for same-sex couples or stop baking them at all.
After Miller, owner of Tastries Bakery in Bakersfield, declined to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding in 2017, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) sued her. When Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe denied a request for a preliminary injunction, DFEH claimed executive authority to continue legal action against Miller, according to a statement from her legal representatives at the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund.
In standing up for her beliefs, Miller faced almost immediate backlash, including death threats. Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church, where Miller and her husband attend and participate in the choir and orchestra, said the church has supported them, hosting a prayer meeting during one of the hearings and patronizing her business. The congregation is no stranger to these situations: Protesters came to the church after Spradlin preached on same-sex marriage. He said Miller is “very loving and considerate and tolerant toward other people,” but her convictions wouldn’t allow her to bake the cake.
“She sees it as an expression of herself and her speech and her religious convictions,” he said. “She takes very seriously her talent and gifts to be able to do this, and her ability to celebrate with people when she makes a wedding cake.”
Spradlin said she has “gone out of her way,” to respond in love, including toward the couple who filed the complaint. DFEH is seeking damages for emotional distress for the couple, Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rios, which could amount to thousands of dollars.
The extent to which First Amendment rights apply to people in the wedding industry has been under debate since the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision in June, when the high court ruled in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips’ right not to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, but the narrow ruling relied upon the clear anti-religious bias in that particular situation. In a case similar to Miller’s, Oregon bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein have appealed to the Supreme Court and hope to find relief in the wake of the Masterpiece ruling. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich