The Supreme Court on Monday tossed out an Oregon court ruling against bakers who refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.
The high court issued an order instructing the appeals judges in Oregon to reconsider the case in light of last year’s Supreme Court decision ruling that a Colorado baker had been subject to anti-religious bias when a state civil rights commission determined he had violated anti-discrimination laws by refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.
The cases are based on the free exercise clause of the constitution’s first amendment. Under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the constitution, there is no right for people of faith to be exempt from generally applicable laws even if those laws interfere with religious practices. In the 1990s, the Supreme Court carved out an exception to this for cases where supposedly neutral legislation can be shown to be rooted in overt hostility against a religion.
The Colorado case expanded that to apply to decisions by state administrative or judicial bodies. The Supreme Court ruled that baker Jack Phillips was subjected to anti-religious bias in the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s decision against him, making its ruling invalid.
Attorneys for Oregon bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein argued that similar anti-religious hostility was behind a state administrative ruling that required the Klein’s to pay a monetary penalty for declining to bake a cake for a lesbian couple in 2013. They also argued that requiring the couple to bake the cake violated their first amendment free speech rights by compelling them to express an opinion with which they disagreed.
Here’s how Bretibart’s Thomas D. Williams described the background to the case:
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.
The case had been in limbo for months, prompting speculation that justices might be rangling behind the scenes over what to do next.
Monday’s order vacates the state appellate court’s decision upholding the penalty against the bakers and directs the court to reconsider its decision in light of the Colorado case’s holding, which was issued after the Oregon court decided its case.
The case is Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, No. 18-547 in the Supreme Court of the United States.