An Oregon couple fined $135,000 for refusing to make a cake for a lesbian wedding appeared before the Oregon Court of Appeals for the first time on Thursday, in an effort to have the judgment overturned.
In one of the most notorious religious liberty cases in recent years, Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, were found guilty of discrimination in 2013 of for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because it violated the tenets of their Christian faith.
The court sentenced the Christian couple to a fine of $135,000 for the “emotional damage” they had allegedly caused the lesbian pair. Rachel Cryer-Bowman and Laurel Bowman-Cryer had accused the Kleins of “mental rape,” adding that they had suffered a “loss of appetite” and “impaired digestion” from the ordeal, which remarkably led to simultaneous “weight gain.”
In 2015, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian slapped a gag order on the Kleins, following the couple’s interview with Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. During the interview, Aaron said among other things, “This fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong.”
“The Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries hereby orders [Aaron and Melissa Klein] to cease and desist from publishing, circulating, issuing or displaying, or causing to be published … any communication to the effect that any of the accommodations … will be refused, withheld from or denied to, or that any discrimination be made against, any person on account of their sexual orientation,” Avakian wrote.
“This effectively strips us of all our First Amendment rights,” wrote the Kleins on their Facebook page. “According to the state of Oregon we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech.”
“We lost everything we loved and worked so hard to build,” she said.
From the beginning, the Kleins have made it clear that they have never refused service to anyone based on sexual orientation, but their religious convictions did not permit them to participate in a gay wedding, which they believe to be immoral.
“When we opened our bakery, we loved serving all customers who came into the shop, regardless of their identity or beliefs. My cakes were my canvas,” Melissa said. “My bakery wasn’t just called ‘Sweet Cakes Bakery,’ it was ‘Sweet Cakes by Melissa’ because I pour my passion and heart into each cake I make. My faith is a part of that.”
Although the Kleins’ situation is bleak, shifting winds in Washington may give cause for a modicum of hope.
The Obama administration sent regular signals that religious liberty would be made to bow before lifestyle choices, but the Trump administration seems to be reversing previous White House hostility toward religious faith.
In late 2016, the Obama-appointed Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) attacked proponents of religious liberty, suggesting that religion is simply a cover for bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination.
Martin R. Castro stated that the phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” are nothing more than “code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance.”
According to Tim Schultz, the president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, the Obama administration seemed to view religion as an enemy standing in the way of their policy objectives.
“They view religious freedom as a kind of inconvenient speed bump on the way to those objectives in some way,” Schultz said.
This has not been the tone taken by the new administration.
In his very first executive order after assuming office, President Trump sought to “ease the burden” of Obamacare by granting exemptions wherever possible to those unduly constrained by the law. Trump’s move followed a long and contentious battle between the Obama administration and the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were being coerced into providing services to which they morally objected.
This week, dozens of conservatives and faith-based groups signed a letter urging President Trump to sign an executive order to protect the religious liberty of people and organizations that have been harassed by the federal government for expressing their beliefs on traditional marriage, the sanctity of life from birth to natural death, and other moral issues.
The Oregon Court of Appeals is expected to issue an opinion on the case of the Christian bakers sometime in the next few months.
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