Bakers Accused of Hate Get Emotional Day in Court

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Melissa Klein, pictured here with husband Aaron in an earlier interview with The Daily Signal, broke down March 2 while giving a statement to reporters outside the Oregon Court of Appeals. (Photo: The Daily Signal /Patchbay Media)

The ongoing battle between gay rights and religious liberty escalated Thursday as husband-and-wife bakers in Oregon appealed their case after being ordered to pay $135,000 in damages for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

“Everything up to this point has been administrative hearings,” Aaron Klein, co-owner with his wife Melissa of the since-closed bakery, told The Daily Signal afterward.

“Every time we tried to make a constitutional argument it was stomped on, because it was administrative law,” he said. “But now we’re finally in a courtroom where the Constitution and due process can be argued on a level we haven’t seen before. I’m looking forward to seeing the outcome.”

In court, an attorney for the Kleins again argued that designing and baking a cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage would violate the bakers’ Christian faith.

Both the Kleins and the same-sex couple who filed the original complaint against them were present inside the courtroom.

Afterward, while speaking to reporters, Melissa Klein had an emotional response.

“I loved my shop, and losing it has been so hard for me and my family,” Melissa Klein says.

“We lost everything,” she said. “I loved my shop, and losing it has been so hard for me and my family.”

In an exclusive telephone interview with The Daily Signal later, she added:

“That was a part of our life, and it was something that we thought was going to be passed down to our kids. It’s something that I miss every day still. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over it because it was our second home.”

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A three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from both sides, with questions focused on issues such as:

  • Does Oregon have a “compelling reason” to grant the Kleins a religious exemption from the state’s antidiscrimination law?
  • Does a cake count as artistic expression protected by the First Amendment, and how do you differentiate between what constitutes art and what doesn’t?
  • What was the particular message involved in designing and making a cake for a same-sex wedding, and how is it understood by an observer?
  • To what extent may an artist be compelled to do something?

The Kleins used to run Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a family bakery they owned and operated in Gresham, Oregon. But after the Kleins declined in 2013 to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, citing their religious beliefs, they faced protests that eventually led them to shut down their bakery.

In July 2015, an administrative judge for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that the Kleins had discriminated against a lesbian couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, on the basis of their sexual orientation. The judge ordered the Kleins to pay the $135,000 for physical, emotional, and mental damages.

Under Oregon law, it is illegal for businesses to refuse service based on a customer’s sexual orientation, as well as race, gender, and other characteristics.

The Kleins maintained that they did not discriminate, but only declined to make the cake because of their religious beliefs about marriage. Designing and baking a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, they said, would violate their Christian faith.

The Kleins appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals on the basis of their constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech, and due process.

The three appeals judges also pursued these lines of questioning:

  • Was the award of damages—the $135,000 the Kleins were ordered to pay—out of line with other cases before the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries?
  • Was it reasonable for that state agency to extend the damages through more than two years after the alleged discrimination actually occurred?
  • Did Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian prejudge the case and in doing so strip the Kleins of their right to due process?
  • How is sexual orientation different from race as a personal characteristic?

Each side had equal time to make their case and the Kleins, as plaintiffs, got an additional five minutes for a rebuttal. The oral arguments were live-streamed, and may be watched in full here.

“The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs,” Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom group that represents the Kleins, said in a press statement, adding:

“In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We hope the court will uphold the Kleins’ rights to free speech and religious liberty.”

But Charlie Burr, a spokesman for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, whose lawyers represent the Bowman-Cryers,  said:

“The facts of this case clearly demonstrate that the Kleins unlawfully discriminated against a same-sex couple when they refused service based on sexual orientation.”

Since the case began in 2013, the Kleins have argued the cards were stacked against them.

Lawyers for the Bureau of Labor and Industries pursued the charges against the Kleins on behalf of the lesbian couple, who went on to marry.

Avakian, the agency official, made multiple public comments criticizing them before any rulings, the Kleins said.

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The administrative judge who issued the final ruling also is employed by the state agency.

Besides ordering the Kleins to pay $135,000, Avakian ordered the former bakery owners to “cease and desist” from speaking publicly about not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings based on their Christian beliefs.

Both parties have said the case has taken a heavy toll on their families. Aaron and Melissa Klein, who have five children, say they continue to face hurtful attacks from liberal activists.

According to an article the Bowman-Cryers wrote for The Advocate, a publication focused on LGBT issues, they are foster parents for two “high-needs” girls.

“Part of the reason we decided to get married in the first place was to provide stability for our daughters,” they wrote, adding:

Before we became engaged, we became foster parents for two very high-needs girls after their mother, a close friend of ours, died suddenly. Lizzy, now 9, has cerebral palsy, autism, and a chromosomal disorder that causes developmental delays. Anastasia, now 7, has Asperger’s and stopped speaking when her mother died.

While the case wound its way through the courts, we won full adoptive custody of Lizzy and Anastasia, and they are the light of our lives.

The appeals judges are not expected to rule for several months. If they rule against the Kleins, the couple’s next step would be appealing to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Kelsey Harkness is a senior news producer at The Daily Signal. Send an email to Kelsey.

Daily Signal

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One thought on “Bakers Accused of Hate Get Emotional Day in Court

  1. The courts are corrupt and have gotten this case wrong from the beginning. And the lawyers are going to make a killing no matter the outcome. The lawyers for the Kleins are not doing them any favors. A business has the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason or for no reason. Ivanka Trump and Nordstrom are a good example. Nordstrom did not want Ivanka’s line because they did not like the President so they moved her products to a less prominent place and gave whatever excuse they wanted. If the contract Ivanka signed with Nordstrom was that her products were to be prominently displayed or whatever, the courts may have jurisdiction if Ivanka wanted to make a deal about it. If the contract did not specify location or prominence, there is no standing for Ivanka to bring a lawsuit. A business is an extension of the person who owns the business and their beliefs can play a part on who they serve or it may not. They may want to close their store for the day or keep it open 24 hours. The owners decide how a store is managed and the courts have no business in that matter.

    Courts do not have power to adjudicate a case where the parties have no standing. Hurt feelings, while they may be real, are not for the court to consider since they cannot be proven and are irrelevant to a court’s findings. Ivanka’s feeling might be hurt and she can feel disappointed, even have emotional distress, but has no standing before a court for monetary compensation.

    Here, the prosecutor has to present evidence that whatever the claim is, it applies to the Kleins. The prosecutor may present evidence that in other court cases judges have ruled a certain way, but it has no bearing on the Kleins’ case since the Kleins were not a party in any other cases and the prosecutor must present evidence that the other court cases, while similar, are binding on the Kleins. The mere ruling by other judges in any other case is not evidence that it applies to the Kleins since rulings are just OPINIONS of judges. Other judges may have descented, but the opinions of the majority of the judges is what is controlling for a particular case.

    The evidence must be tied to the case at hand in order for it to have any bearing. There must have been a violation of a contract before the parties have standing before the court. The mere denial of service to anyone is not an excuse for standing.

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