The Oregon Court of Appeals Wednesday issued a partial reversal of a state agency’s ruling against two evangelical Christian bakers who declined to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding on religious grounds.
The court said the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, or BOLI, “acted non-neutrally” against Aaron and Melissa Klein and ordered the agency to reconsider the $135,000 fine imposed on the Gresham couple’s business.
Wednesday’s decision upheld the finding that the Kleins had discriminated in turning down the cake order, but said “the damages portion of the proceedings before BOLI did not comport with the First Amendment’s requirement of strict neutrality toward religion,” requiring a reconsideration of the fine.
While noting the determination that BOLI must reassess the fine imposed on the bakers, attorneys at First Liberty Institute, which along with former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray represents the couple, said they will appeal because the Oregon court is asking the panel that unfairly fined the Kleins to decide the case one more time.
“Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” Stephanie Taub, a First Liberty senior counsel, said in a statement. “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.”
The Kleins, who traded as “Sweetcakes by Melissa,” declined a woman’s request for a custom-designed cake for a same-sex wedding, saying that to do so would violate their faith. The BOLI found that the Kleins had violated the civil rights of Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer and awarded $75,000 to Rachel Bowman-Cryer and $60,000 to Laurel.
At issue was Aaron Klein’s reported citing of Leviticus 18:22 which in the King James version reads, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.”
The Kleins appealed first to the state appeals court, which backed the BOLI, and then, in 2018 to the Supreme Court of the United States, which vacated the state court’s ruling and remanded the matter back in light of the high court’s 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. ruling which found that Colorado’s civil rights panel had been hostile to baker Jack Phillips in a similar case.
Attorney Jennifer C. Pizer, senior counsel at gay rights advocacy law firm Lambda Legal, who represented the Bowman-Cryers, said in a statement, “The [appeals] court was right five years ago and is still right today. The Kleins’ faith does not give them a pass to ignore Oregon’s Public Accommodation Law.”