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Two Christian bakers in Oregon who faced a $135,000 fine for refusing to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding in 2011 received a partial victory in court Wednesday.
While the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the ruling that Aaron and Melissa Klein, erstwhile owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, had violated the law by refusing to create an artistic cake to celebrate the nuptials of Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, it also ruled that the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) had violated the First Amendment’s “requirement of strict neutrality toward religion” in determining the damages the Kleins must pay. The court returned the case to BOLI to determine the correct damages.
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First Liberty, the law firm representing the Kleins, cried foul and told Fox News Digital that the bakers plan to appeal the decision to the state’s supreme court.
“Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” Stephanie Taub, senior counsel for First Liberty, 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,” Taub added. “It’s time for the state of Oregon’s hostility toward Aaron and Melissa to end.”
The Kleins first served Cryer and Bowman by baking a cake to celebrate the marriage of Cryer’s mother to a man, yet they declined a later order for the same-sex ceremony. Cryer and Bowman then went to BOLI, claiming that they had been “mentally raped” by the rejection, even though the couple found another bakery willing to create the cake at a much lower price. BOLI ruled that the Kleins had discriminated against Cryer and Bowman due to their sexual orientation, and fined them $135,000 in non-economic damages for “emotional distress.”
While the Kleins raised some money on GoFundMe, activists convinced the crowdfunding site to remove the page and the bakery closed in 2016.
The Kleins appealed up the courts to the Supreme Court, which ordered the lower courts to reconsider the case in light of the June 2018 Supreme Court decision Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In that case, the Court ruled that the commission had employed “impermissible hostility” against a Christian baker’s faith, violating the First Amendment.
The Oregon Court of Appeals found 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 prosecutor’s closing argument apparently equating the Kleins’ religious beliefs with ‘prejudice,’ together with the agency’s reasoning for imposing damages in connection with Aaron’s quotation of Leviticus, reflect that the agency acted in a way that passed judgment on the Kleins’ religious beliefs, something that is impermissible under Masterpiece Cakeshop,” the court ruled. “BOLI effectively took a side in an ongoing religious discussion” – the side supporting an alteration in the centuries-old Christian definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.
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A spokesperson for First Liberty told Fox News Digital that the Kleins intend to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court and, if necessary, the U.S. Supreme Court.
A BOLI spokesperson declined to comment on the decision.