Antigay Oregon Bakers Appeal, Claim Religious Freedom Was Violated

Melissa and Aaron Klein
Melissa and Aaron Klein

The Oregon bakers who were found guilty of discrimination and fined for refusing to serve a same-sex couple’s wedding have are appealing the decision, claiming it violated their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion.

Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, filed their case with the Oregon Court of Appeals Monday, challenging a 2014 ruling by the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The bureau found that the Kleins had violated Oregon’s antidiscrimination law by refusing to provide a cake for the 2013 wedding of Rachel Cryer-Bowman and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. Last year the bureau ordered the Kleins to pay a fine of $135,000 for the emotional harm they caused to the lesbian couple. Their action, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian wrote, “was more than the denial of the product. ... It was the epitome of being told there are places you cannot go, things you cannot do … or be.”

The bakers resisted paying the fine for several months, despite raising nearly half a million dollars through a crowdfunding campaign, but they finally delivered the money, plus interest, at the end of the year.

In their filing with the appeals court, the bakers claim that the bureau misinterpreted Oregon law, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. They say, as they did in arguments before an administrative law judge with the bureau, that they were not discriminating against the lesbian couple because of their orientation, but were refusing to participate in a celebration that violated their Christian beliefs. The bureau found this a specious argument, ruling that weddings are “inextricably linked to ... sexual orientation.” The Kleins contend this ruling was mistaken.

Their document also claims that Avakian made numerous comments in the media about the case before he ruled, showing he had a bias against them. “In a televised interview, the Commissioner opined that the Kleins ‘likely’ violated the law because ‘regardless of one’s religious belief, if you open up a store, and you open it up to the public to sell goods, you cannot discriminate in Oregon.’” The Kleins further say the amount of damages was excessive and that their free speech rights have been violated because the bureau ordered them not to discriminate against same-sex couples in the future.

A press release issued by the bakers and their lawyers today asserts that the Kleins “lost their bakery for running their business according to their religious beliefs.” This is misleading at best, as The New Civil Rights Movement notes:

“The Kleins of course did not lose their business at all. Unless they have sold it or somehow let it lapse, they still own the Sweet Cakes by Melissa trademark. Years ago they chose to close their storefront shop and take their cake baking business online, where you today can buy a cake, a wedding cake, cupcakes, and other baked goods: Sweet Cakes.”

The bakers’ legal team includes First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based nonprofit that bills itself as “the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans.” Kelly Shackelford, the institute’s president and CEO, is a member of Ted Cruz’s Religious Liberty Advisory Council for his presidential campaign. Also representing the Kleins is Boyden Gray, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who was White House counsel for President George H.W. Bush.

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