Metro Weekly

Bakery Owners Ask Supreme Court to Hear Religious Refusal Case

Aaron and Melissa Klein were fined for violating Oregon's nondiscrimination law after refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Photo: David Holifield/Unsplash

A Christian baker is once again asking the Supreme Court to take up her challenge to Oregon’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law after the state fined her for refusing to bake a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Melissa Klein and her husband, Aaron, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, claim that they were forced to close their business after being fined $135,000 by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries following a 2013 incident in which the Kleins refused to bake a wedding cake for Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple of 10 years.

When Aaron Klein found out that the custom-made cake was intended for a lesbian wedding, he allegedly said, “We don’t do same-sex weddings” and called the couple an “abomination,” citing the Bible as justification.

The Kleins have repeatedly claimed their religious beliefs opposing homosexuality prevent them from providing goods or services for a same-sex wedding.

The Bowman-Cryers filed discrimination complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and the Department of Justice.

In response, the Kleins attempted to defend their refusal to bake the cake, “doxxing” the Bowman-Cryers in the process by sharing private information about them, including their address.

The Bowman-Cryers were inundated with so many hateful messages and death threats that their two foster children had to be removed from the home for their own protection.

The Bureau of Labor and Industries found that the Kleins had violated the Oregon Public Accommodations Law and ordered them to pay financial restitution to the Bowman-Cryers.

The Kleins appealed the decision, which the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld. The Kleins then appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, before appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court and asking it to intervene in the case. 

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Oregon Court of Appeals, directing it to revisit its earlier decision against the Kleins and determine whether anti-religious bias had played a role in the state’s decision to fine the Kleins for violating the law.

The high court made a similar decision in 2018, when it ruled, as part of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had allowed anti-religious bias to influence its decision finding that a baker with religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage violated Colorado’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law by refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple. 

The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld its original 2017 decision against the Kleins, finding they had violated the law, but overturned its previous approval of the $135,000 fine.

The Bureau of Labor and Industries then reduced the amount the Kleins owed in damages to the Bowman-Cryers to $30,000. The Kleins have since appealed the decision, arguing that the fine was unjustly leveraged against them because of their outspokenness regarding their religious beliefs opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

The Kleins also argue that, as artists, they have a First Amendment right not to create custom-made cakes that violate their religion or force them to communicate a message implying tacit approval of same-sex marriage, in violation of their faith, reports The Washington Times.

“All Americans are entitled to due process, with a fair hearing before an unbiased tribunal. The Kleins never received that,” Stephanie Taub, a senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, which is representing the Kleins, said in a statement.

“We hope the Court will hear the Kleins’ case and clarify that all Americans have a constitutional right to due process, free speech, and religious liberty. After nearly a decade, it’s past time for the Supreme Court to put an end to the state of Oregon’s hostility toward Aaron and Melissa.”

A spokesperson from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries told the Times that they don’t comment on pending litigation.

It remains to be seen whether the high court will take up the Kleins’ case.

The justices are scheduled to return from their summer recess for the court’s first conference on Sept. 28, during which the justices will vote on which appeals to hear.

The decision to take up the case could occur at any point between then and the remainder of the 2022-2023 term, with the earliest opportunity coming on Oct. 3, when the court will report what decisions were made at its Sept. 28 conference. 

The Supreme Court is already scheduled to hear a similar LGBTQ nondiscrimination case this upcoming term, when it rules on a case involving a Colorado website designer who claims the state’s nondiscrimination law compels her to communicate a message of support for same-sex marriage by prohibiting her from refusing to make custom websites for same-sex marriages. The designer, Lorie Smith, claims the state’s law violates her right to free speech.

The outcome of Smith’s case could play a role in influencing how the court may rule in the Kleins’ case, at least with respect to the alleged violation of free speech rights.

The Kleins, who have since moved to Montana, have launched an online fundraising appeal, raising over $32,000, with the money ostensibly going to help the Kleins set up a new bakery in a new state.

Melissa Klein told The Christian Post that she hopes that the new bakery will be a place that will “show God’s goodness to everyone.”

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