State lawyers contend that the $135,000 fine for discrimination levied by a state official against the Christian owners of a Gresham bakery was appropriate.
As reported by The Oregonian, the lawyers, responding to an appeal by Sweet Cakes by Melissa owners Aaron and Melissa Klein, made their points in a brief filed last month.
Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian ordered the Kleins to pay the huge penalty to a lesbian couple for whom the bakery owners had refused on relugious grounds to make a wedding cake in 2013. That business decision and the resulting controversary has garnered national attention.
The appeal was filed by the Kleins to the Oregon Court of Appeals in April, backed by H. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel for President George H.W. Bush. The Kleins contend that Avakian’s order violated state and federal laws. They said the labor bureau violated the Kleins’ rights as artists to free speech, their rights as Oregonians to religious freedom and their rights as defendants to a due process. They also claim that the fine was excessive and that Avakian, who praised an LGBTQ advocacy group on Facebook the year before the hearing, should have removed himself from hearing the matter.
State Attorney Geneal Ellen Rosenblum and Solicitor General Benjamin Gutman disagree. They say Avakian’s final order did not violate free speech rights, because refusing service is conduct, not protected speech. The order targeted discriminatory conduct and not the Kleins’ religious beliefs, the lawyers argue.
They also say Avakian is not biased against the Kleins and that on Facebook and in news interviews Avakian expressed his grasp of the public accommodations law.
Furthermore, the lawyers say the $135,000 award is fair because the same-sex couple who were denied the cake, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Crier, testified extensively about their deep emotional distress over the incident.
With the help of thousands nationally in a crowdfunding effort, the Kleins paid the damages last year, but the money is in an escrow account until appeals conclude.