- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2017

An appeals court ruled Thursday against the Oregon bakers who were fined $135,000 for declining to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

In its decision, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld an administrative law judge’s ruling that Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, violated a public accommodations law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Kelly Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute, a religious liberty law firm representing the Kleins, said he was “disappointed” by Thursday’s decision.

“Freedom of expression for ourselves should require freedom of expression for others,” Mr. Shackelford said in a statement. “Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided that Aaron and Melissa Klein are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech. In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs.”

Attorneys for the Kleins said they are considering all of their options for further appeal.

The panel of appellate judges concluded that baking wedding cakes does not constitute “speech, art or other expression” protected by the First Amendment.

Even if the Kleins “imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices,” the court said, other people will not necessarily “experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as ‘expression’ rather than as food.”

The court also said the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries did not “impermissibly burden the Kleins’ right to the free exercise of religion” because the Christian bakers were only forced to comply with “a neutral law of general applicability.”

“The Kleins seek an exemption based on their sincere religious opposition to same-sex marriage; but those with sincere religious objections to marriage between people of different races, ethnicities or faiths could just as readily demand the same exemption,” the court said.

The Oregon ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court has taken up the question of whether wedding vendors who disagree with gay marriage must be forced to service same-sex wedding ceremonies, even if doing so would violate their religious convictions.

The highest court heard oral argument earlier this month in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case stemming from Christian baker Jack Phillips’ refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake for a gay couple.

The Kleins closed their bakery in 2016 after they were ordered to pay $135,000 in emotional and mental damages to the lesbian couple.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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