(January 29, 2024 – Fresno, California) The State of California continues to prosecute Christian cake designer Cathy Miller for living by the tenets of her faith. Thomas More Society attorneys filed a response on January 18, 2024, on behalf of the owner of a Bakersfield, California, bakery, to an appeal by the California Civil Rights Department. The government agency is still trying to put Miller out of business even after the California Superior Court of Kern County upheld her rights to freedom of religion and expression.
The state’s appeal, being heard by California’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, persists in accusing Miller and her company of intentional discrimination against two women for their sexual orientation, in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
In the seven years since the California Civil Rights Department first took legal action against Miller for her Christian beliefs, Miller and her staff have lost business, been accused of being bigoted and racist, criminally harassed, and even targeted with death threats.
Charles LiMandri, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, observed the irony that a law intended to “protect individuals from religious discrimination was used to discriminate against Cathy for her religious beliefs.”
As a devout Christian, Miller established guidelines that were in accordance with her faith and sincere religious beliefs, in order to manage Tastries’ custom bakery business. Because of the symbolism of wedding cakes and Miller’s Biblical belief that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman, when approached in August 2017 to design a cake for a wedding between two women, she referred them to another bakery. A few weeks later, in October 2017, Miller found herself under investigation by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (now renamed as the California Civil Rights Department).
LiMandri explained Miller’s position as a Christian business owner, “Cathy didn’t intend to cause any harm, she was just trying to follow her faith and her conscience and stand up for what she believes in—yet do so in a respectful and polite and loving way.” LiMandri added that Miller would have been happy to sell the two women any pre-made items, but declined to grace their celebration with her personal artistry, which is always custom-designed to match the client’s event. Doing so would be tantamount to approval, which Miller could not give.
As a result of her commitment to her Christian faith, cake designer Miller was hauled into court—not once, but twice—by the California Civil Rights Department, for declining the women’s order. Her freedom to exercise her sincere religious beliefs via her craft was affirmed by a California Superior Court.
California filed its first legal action against Miller in November 2017, claiming that her beliefs “harm the dignity of all Californians.” In February 2018, in this special petition proceeding, Superior Court Judge David Lampe ruled in Cathy’s favor, citing First Amendment protections.
In California’s second lawsuit against Miller, filed in October 2018, Superior Court Judge J. Eric Bradshaw, decided in her favor. He concluded that the state agency’s enforcement action sought to compel Miller and Tastries to express support for same sex marriage or be silent. Judge Bradshaw also held that Miller had not violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act because her declining of the order was based on her own religious beliefs, not the couple’s sexual orientation, and her offer to refer them to a comparable bakery was reasonable under the circumstances.
Following Bradshaw’s October 2022 decision, which was strengthened via a June 2023 United States Supreme Court decision affirming the rights of a Christian web designer in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, California filed an appeal in the state’s appellate court.
Adèle Keim, Senior Counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is collaborating with Thomas More Society in Miller’s defense, commented, “Targeting a family-run bakery because of the owner’s religious beliefs is meanspirited, illegal, and deserves no place in our society. California officials should have never started this campaign against Cathy and her bakery. California should let Cathy bake in peace.”
Read the Respondents’ Brief, filed January 18, 2023, by Thomas More Society attorneys, along with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, on behalf of Cathy Miller, at The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fifth Appellate District in California Civil Rights Department v. Tastries here.