The Oregon Court of Appeals issued a ruling involving our clients, Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein. It reversed a decision that forced the Kleins’ family bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, out of business by penalizing them $135,000 for declining to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. The court also admitted that an Oregon bureaucratic agency acted with hostility against the Kleins’ religious beliefs.
“Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty. “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.”
In its opinion, the court concluded that, “when viewed in the light of Masterpiece Cakeshop, BOLI’s handling of the damages portion of the case does not reflect the neutrality toward religion required by the Free Exercise Clause.”
The fight, however, is not over. The Kleins could still face thousands of dollars in crippling penalties for living out their faith.
The court said the Kleins violated the law by operating their business in accordance with their beliefs. Incredibly, it’s sending the case back for a do-over to the very same agency that showed anti-Christian bias toward the Kleins. In other words, Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it too.
The United States Supreme Court originally sent the case back to the Oregon courts to reconsider in light of its Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. There the Justices reminded government officials that they cannot be hostile to the free exercise of the religious beliefs of its citizens. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Supreme Court’s finding of anti-Christian bias ended the state’s case against the baker. Today’s opinion allows the case to continue in the agency that the Oregon Court of Appeals found to have been biased against the Kleins.
The Kleins intend to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court and, if necessary, to the United States Supreme Court. For the Kleins—and for millions of faith-based, small business owners across our country—a win in this case will be immensely important.