Aaron and Melissa Klein, the Christian owners of a Gresham, Oregon bakery called Sweetcakes by Melissa, politely turned down a request from a lesbian couple in 2013 to create a custom wedding cake for their upcoming wedding celebration. The Kleins explained to one of the lesbian women and her mother that the Kleins’ faith prevented them from creating an artistic expression symbolizing marriage for a same-sex wedding, after which the mother and daughter left. The mother returned shortly thereafter and engaged the Kleins in a further conversation as to why their religious faith prevented them from creating such a cake. At that point Aaron Klein shared a Scripture verse with the mother from Leviticus 18:22, which states: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”
The mother then left the shop and inaccurately communicated to her daughter that Aaron had called her “an abomination.” Four days later, the same-sex couple found another baker who agreed to make the custom cake they desired. The couple then filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) charging the Kleins with discriminating against them on the basis of their sexual orientation, a purported violation of the state’s public accommodations laws. BOLI found against the Kleins and imposed damages of $135,000 for the alleged emotional pain suffered by the lesbian couple. The Kleins appealed BOLI’s decision all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court, to no avail. The Kleins have now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Oregon courts, arguing that Oregon has violated their freedom of speech and religion under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
If and when the Court formally accepts the Kleins’ appeal, a hearing will be set, and a written decision will follow. As this article went to press, the Court had not indicated whether it will indeed accept the case.
In addition to dealing with endless legal proceedings, the Kleins were vandalized and harassed out of business by those opposed to the religious stand that they took.
If this all sounds like déjà vu because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in June, 2018 in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, involving a Christian baker from Lakewood, Colorado, who declined to bake a custom wedding cake for a homosexual couple, you’d be correct, up to a point.
If you recall, Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, won his case because the Supreme Court held that Colorado had violated his freedom of religion when it did two separate things: (1) the Colorado Civil Rights Commission treated his religious claims with hostility, at one point comparing his religious claim to the statements historically attributed to perpetrators of the Holocaust and former slave-owners to justify their abhorrent actions, and; (2) the Commission treated other bakers differently than Jack by upholding the rights of several shops that turned away a customer who wanted biblical verses about homosexuality written on a cake. Importantly, the Supreme Court did not address the free speech issue in Masterpiece.
In the Kleins’ case, there are indications of the state’s anti-religious hostility, but no record of differential treatment of the Kleins vis a vis other bakers. However, the Kleins’ arguments and supporting facts pick up where Jack Phillips’ case left off, i.e., they invoke free speech principles that the Masterpiece court did not address. There were “uncertainties” in the factual record, according to Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court, over whether Phillips’ wedding cakes were all “custom” cakes which, the justice noted, “might make a difference” to the outcome of his free speech claims.
But the Kleins and their legal team from First Liberty Institute are optimistic that the Kleins’ case could allow the Supreme Court to expand upon its Masterpiece decision and draw broad Constitutional lines that favor the free speech rights of artists in general.
The official case title for the Kleins’ appeal is Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.
*Photo by First Liberty