Home June 2016 Bakery owners take religious freedom case to appeals court

Bakery owners take religious freedom case to appeals court


SALEM — Contending that the state government has violated their constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech and due process, bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein are taking their case to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Representing the Kleins, Texas-based First Liberty Institute and C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel for President George H.W. Bush, filed a brief with the court in late April.
The Kleins’ attorneys argue that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) violated state and federal laws by forcing the Kleins to pay $135,000 in damages to a lesbian couple for whom the Kleins in 2013 declined to bake a cake for their same-sex wedding ceremony.
The filling notes that before hearing the Kleins’ case, BOLI Commissioner Brad Avakian made comments on social media and in media interviews revealing his intent to rule against them. Because he failed to recuse himself from the case while harboring a bias against the Kleins, Avakian deprived the Kleins of their right to due process with a fair hearing before an impartial tribunal, their attorneys claim.
The attorneys also contend that the $135,000 penalty was excessive, and that the BOLI order is unjustified under state and federal law.
“In America, you’re protected by the Constitution and you’re also innocent until proven guilty,” said Kelly Shacklefod, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute. “Commissioner Brad Avakian decided the Kleins were guilty before he even heard their case. This is an egregious violation of the Kleins’ rights to due process. We hope the Oregon Court of Appeals will remedy this by reversing or dismissing the government’s case against the Kleins.”
One of the two women in the same-sex relationship had been a customer of the Kleins’ Sweet Cakes by Melissa storefront bakery in Gresham prior to the cake request.
However, the Kleins, as devout Christians, believed participating in the wedding event would violate their faith, so they declined to create the custom cake.
The two women then filed complaints with BOLI, claiming their rights had been violated and that they suffered emotionally. An administrative judge for the state agency ruled that the Kleins had violated an Oregon law that bans discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in jobs and in places that serve the public.
The resulting controversy, which received national media attention, ultimately forced the Kleins to close the storefront location and move the bakery to their Sandy-area home. They were the target of protests and also received death threats. Supporters of the couple across the nation have since then donated more than a half-million dollars to their legal fight.
The Oregonian noted that the Sweet Cakes case is one of several religious freedom disputes tried as part of a national debate that has intensified since a June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision established same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.
In March, Washington State’s Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Richland, Wash., florist Barronnelle Stutzman, who refused to provide flowers for a longtime customer’s same-sex ceremony.
But Colorado’s state Supreme Court in April declined to hear an appeal from a Denver-area baker who had been ordered to make desserts for same-sex weddings.