U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday sidestepped another opportunity to determine if LGBTQ rights trump the Constitution’s protection of the exercise of religion.
Nevertheless, they ruled in favor of the owners of an Oregon bakery, Sweetcakes by Melissa, who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The ruling vacated a state court decision against Aaron and Melissa Klein, eliminating a $135,000 fine. And it directed state appellate judges to reconsider the case in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips.
In its previous term, the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips on the narrow grounds that the state exhibited hostility to his Christian faith when it punished him for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
In another related case, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled June 6 that state courts did not act with animosity toward religion when they ruled that florist Baronnelle Stutzman broke the state’s anti-discrimination laws by refusing on grounds of her Christian faith to provide flowers for the wedding of a gay couple.
The hostility in Oregon against the Kleins’ faith was obvious to many observers.
Then-Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian “made numerous public comments on social media and in media interviews revealing his intent was to rule against them,” said Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham.
“He stated that the Kleins had ‘disobey[ed]’ Oregon law and needed to be ‘rehabilitate[d].'”
On Facebook, Graham wrote: “This is unbelievable! … Brad Avakian, Oregon’s Bureau of Labor & Industries Commissioner, upheld [the previous] ruling that the Kleins have to pay the lesbian couple $135,000 for a long list of alleged damages including: ‘acute loss of confidence,’ ‘high blood pressure,’ ‘impaired digestion,’ ‘loss of appetite,’ ‘migraine headaches,’ ‘pale and sick at home after work,’ ‘resumption of smoking habit,’ ‘weight gain,’ and ‘worry.’ Give me a break. In my opinion, this couple should pay the Kleins $135,000 for all they’ve been through!”
Graham said that even “more outrageous is that Avakian has also now ordered the Kleins to ‘cease and desist’ from speaking publicly about not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings based on their Christian beliefs.’
“This is an outright attack on their #freedomofspeech. A senior attorney with The Heritage Foundation was absolutely right when he said, ‘It is exactly this kind of oppressive persecution by government officials that led the pilgrims to America.'”
The case focused on alleged “insults” suffered in 2013 when Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer were preparing to marry. After the Kleins, citing their religious beliefs, declined to make the couple a cake, the women immediately complained to the state. They eventually were awarded $75,000 and $60,000 because their feelings were hurt.
Jeremy Dys, a lawyer with First Liberty, which is representing the Kleins, said Monday’s decision means at least some of the Supreme Court justices believe the state of Oregon showed hostility toward the Kleins’ faith.
He called it a great victory for the family and their business.
The underlying conflict between the constitutional rights of Christians and the created rights of homosexuals at some point will need to be addressed, Dys said.
Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty, called Monday’s ruling “a victory for Aaron and Melissa Klein and for religious liberty for all Americans.”
“The Constitution protects speech, popular or not, from condemnation by the government. The message from the court is clear, government hostility toward religious Americans will not be tolerated,” he said.
In California, yet another similar case is developing.
Lawyers representing Christian cake artist Cathy Miller have charged that two women who demanded a cake from her were wearing a recording device. The women, the lawyers contend, were going from business to business to trap someone so they could then sue.
The state now has sued Miller twice over the same incident. In the first case, a judge ruled Miller’s refusal was protected by the First Amendment. The state said it was simply dropping that case and relaunching an identical new one.
In the Colorado case, the justices rebuked the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because “the record here demonstrates that the commission’s consideration of Phillips’ case was neither tolerant nor respectful of his religious beliefs.”
Colorado not only ordered Phillips to make cakes for same-sex couples, it required him to undergo a reindoctrination program.
“The commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case … showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection. As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the commission’s formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillip’s faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust,” the U.S. Supreme Court said.
“No commissioners objected to the comments,” the ruling noted.