It’s another one of those “good news, bad news” stories involving religious freedom and freedom of speech in the marketplace.
First, the good news.
Aaron and Melissa Klein, the Christian couple who owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery shop in Gresham, Oregon, have been fighting the state of Oregon for ten years over their refusal, based on their religious beliefs, to create a wedding cake for two lesbians. After being found guilty of sexual orientation “discrimination” by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) and fined $135,000 for causing emotional distress to the two women, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling. The Kleins appealed their case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that Oregon’s actions violated their religious and free speech rights, and that the state appeals court should not have affirmed BOLI’s ruling.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Supreme Court. Jack Phillips, the Colorado owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, arrived there first with a very similar claim. After the high court ruled that Colorado’s hostility to Phillips’ religious beliefs violated the state’s responsibility to remain neutral on such matters and reversed the lower courts in that case, the justices decided to send the Kleins’ case back to the Oregon Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling in light of what the high court said in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.
The Kleins had another day in court in January 2020 as their attorneys argued to the judges on the Oregon Court of Appeals that their earlier ruling was in error.
Over a year later, the Oregon appellate court has finally issued a new ruling in the case. It reversed the damage award against the Kleins because, the judges said, BOLI expressed its own form of hostility to religion by calling the Kleins’ religious views “prejudiced” and in effect, punished the couple for Aaron’s use of a quote from the Book of Leviticus about homosexuality in a discussion with the mother of one of the lesbians involved.
But the news isn’t all good. While the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the damage award, it affirmed BOLI’s original ruling that the Kleins had discriminated against the two women seeking a wedding cake. It also remanded (i.e., sent) the case back to BOLI to, in effect, take a second look at the damages issue and do so with a more “neutral” view toward the Kleins’ religious beliefs.
The Kleins’ attorneys at First Liberty Institute are crying foul at that aspect of the court’s decision.
“Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty, said in a press release. “The Court admits the state agency that acted as both prosecutor and judge in this case was biased against the Kleins’ faith. Yet, despite this anti-Christian bias that infected the whole case, the court is sending the case back to the very same agency for a do-over. Today’s opinion should have been the end of this ten-year long saga. It’s time for the state of Oregon’s hostility toward Aaron and Melissa to end.”
According to First Liberty, the Kleins, who were ultimately forced to close their bakery in Gresham due to the backlash this case caused, intend to appeal this latest ruling to the Oregon Supreme Court, and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Photo from First Liberty.