According to The Daily Signal, bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein — who once cited their Christian beliefs in declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding between Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer back in 2013, and have since closed their bakery due to a boycott — will now have to pay a $135,000 fine levied by a state agency.
Last Thursday, a three-judge panel from the Oregon Court of Appeals found that baking a cake did not count as “speech, art, or other expression” which would have been protected by the First Amendment.
Instead, the court upheld that the same-sex couples’ request to bake a cake for their wedding ceremony did not “impermissibly burden the Kleins’ right to the free exercise of religion” since they would only have to comply with “a neutral law of general applicability.”
“We are very disappointed in the court’s decision,” said Michael Berry, deputy general counsel at First Liberty Institute, a religious liberty nonprofit that represents the Kleins.
“I think that punishing people for their religious beliefs is … not American, and it’s wrong.”
However, one of the lesbian plaintiffs in the case views things a bit differently, comparing what the Kleins did to segregation in the Jim Crow South.
“It does not matter how you were born or who you love,” Laurel Bowman-Cryer said in a statement. “All of us are equal under the law and should be treated equally. Oregon will not allow a ‘Straight Couples Only’ sign to be hung in bakeries or other stores.”
Now, that may seem like a compelling argument at first glance, but in actuality, it’s a stretch at best. You see, unlike Jim Crow, where widespread, state-sanctioned discrimination was the issue, the Kleins were simply following the compass of their religious faith and what the Bible says regarding homosexuality and its sinfulness.
Nevertheless, here we are, in an actual time and place where Aaron and Melissa Klein, a middle-class American family who has already been unfairly forced out of business, are now being forced to pay a hefty $135,000 fine, all for exercising their First Amendment rights.
Although the Kleins have collected significant amounts of money from supporters, the Oregonian reported they’ve said almost all of that has gone to legal fees. According to Brad Avakian, Oregon’s labor commissioner, the $135,000 from the Kleins remains in escrow for the Bowman-Cryers.
After the court’s decision, Berry and others from the First Liberty Institute are looking at ways forward for the couple.
“We’re evaluating our options at this point, obviously in terms of whether we are going to appeal, etc., and we’ll discuss all those options with Aaron and Melissa Klein and decide on the best course of action for them,” Berry said. This could include an appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court.
And hopefully it does. Because as Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, puts it in his statement, “Freedom of expression for ourselves should require freedom of expression for others.”
“In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We are disappointed that the court ruled against the Kleins,” he added. “I think it’s a sad day for our Constitution and for the rule of law in this country when a family-owned bakery can be put out of business simply for trying to follow their religious beliefs.”