While an Oregon appeals court recently overturned a $135,000 fine for a Christian couple refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, a three-judge panel maintained that the couple violated state law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Aaron and Melissa Klein, the co-owners of the former Gresham-based bakery Sweetcakes by Melissa, have been engaged in a years-long legal battle after the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries punished them for refusing to bake a cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple, in 2013.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of the State of Oregon ruled that the Kleins’ refusal to bake the cake for the same-sex wedding was unlawful discrimination. Still, the court removed an order requiring the couple to pay $135,000 in damages.
“We adhere to our prior decision upholding BOLI’s determinations that Aaron unlawfully discriminated against the Bowman-Cryers based on sexual orientation,” Circuit Judge Erin Lagesen, the author of the panel opinion, wrote.
“We reach a different conclusion with respect to our prior affirmance of BOLI’s noneconomic damages award,” she continued.
“BOLI’s handling of the damages portion of the case does not reflect the neutrality toward religion required by the Free Exercise Clause,” Lagesen ruled. “We, therefore, set aside the damages portion of the order and remand for further proceedings related to remedy.”
Stephanie Taub, senior counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal nonprofit representing the Kleins, criticized the ruling, saying, “Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too.”
“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,” Taub said in a statement.
“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,” she contended.
As reported by The Christian Post, the Kleins first appealed the BOLI order to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2016, but the court maintained the order. The couple then sought to appeal the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.
In June 2019, the nation’s high court issued an order vacating the ruling against the Kleins and returned the case to the Oregon appeals court.
At the time, the Supreme Court cited its 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision. In that decision, the court ruled that the commission showed an unconstitutional anti-religious hostility toward Christian baker Jack Philips of Masterpiece Cakeshop after he refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.