A California Court Defends Free Speech And Religious Freedom

The State of California brings this action under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Civil Code section 51, against defendants Cathy’s Creations, Inc. and Cathy Miller. Miller refuses to design and create wedding cakes to be used in the celebration of same sex marriages. She believes that such marriages violate her deeply held religious convictions. The State seeks to enjoin this conduct as unlawfully discriminatory. The State brings the action upon the administrative complaint of a same-sex married couple, complainants Rodriquez-Del Rios.

The State cannot succeed on the facts presented as a matter of law. The right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment outweighs the State’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace. 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. No public commentator in the marketplace of ideas may be forced by law to publish any opinion with which he disagrees in the name of equal access. No person may be forced by the State to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance against her will. The law cannot compel anyone to stand for the National Anthem. No persons may be forced to advertise a state-sponsored slogan on license plates against their religious beliefs.

The State’s purpose to ensure an accessible public marketplace free from discrimination is a laudable and necessary public goal. No vendor may refuse to sell their public goods, or services (not fundamentally founded upon speech) based upon their perception of the gender identification of their customer, even upon religious grounds. A retail tire shop may not refuse to sell a tire because the owner does not want to sell tires to same sex couples. There is nothing sacred or expressive about a tire.

No artist, having placed their work for public sale, may refuse to sell for an unlawful discriminatory purpose. No baker may place their wares in a public display case, open their shop, and then refuse to sell because of race, religion, gender, or gender identification.

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 a cake. 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.

The Unruh Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, as well as sexual orientation. Would this court force a baker who strongly favored GLBT rights to create and design a wedding cake she had refused to a 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. The court takes judicial notice, not of the content, but of the fact, that before the hearing on this matter there was a gathering in front of the courthouse where both sides of the debate voiced their views. Would this court order one side or the other to be quiet? Such an order would be the stuff of tyranny. Both sides advocate with strong and heartfelt beliefs, and this court has a duty to ensure that all are given the freedom to speak them. The government must remain neutral in the marketplace of ideas.1

No matter how the court should rule, one side or the other may be visited with some degree of hurt, insult, and indignity. The court finds that any harm here is equal to either complainants or defendant Miller, one way or the other. If anything, the harm to Miller is the greater harm, because it carries significant economic consequences. When one feels injured, insulted, or angered by the words or expressive conduct of others, the harm is many times self—inflicted. The most effective Free Speech in the family of our nation is when we speak and listen with respect. In any case, 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 a free
society under our Constitution.

Hon. David R. Lampe in DEPARTMENT OF FAIR EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING VS CATHY’S CREATIONS, INC. Superior Court of California, Kern County, Bakersfield Dept. 11; February 5, 2018.
NOTE

1. F.C.C. v. Pacifica Found. (1978) 438 U.S. 726, 745—46, 98 S. Ct. 3026, 3038, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1073.

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