Christian baker ruling spurs reaction, even a hoax

By Faith News Note:

The owners of a Gresham bakery must pay $135,000 for illegally discriminating against a lesbian couple, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 28 in upholding the state labor commissioner’s decision.

The courts: The Appeals Court unanimously sided with Avakian, who heralded the decision as “a strong signal that Oregon remains open to all.” The Bowman-Cryers, through their attorney, said the ruling upholds “the long-standing idea that discrimination has no place in America.”

Bureau of Labor and Industries: Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian stated, “For the past ten years, the Oregon Equality Act of 2007 has protected Oregonians from unlawful discrimination in housing, employment and public places. Today’s ruling sends a strong signal that Oregon remains open to all. Within Oregon’s public accommodations law is the basic principle of human decency that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, has the freedom to fully participate in society”

The Christian Bakers: Attorneys for First Liberty Institute, a national religious freedom law firm representing the Kleins, plan to consider options, but CEO and President Kelly Shackelford expressed disappointment. “Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided that Aaron and Melissa Klein are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech.”

The hoax: A satire website called the Last Line of Defense, ran a fictional article with Aaron and Melissa Klein’s actual photo, stating that a Christian baker couple facing a $135,000 fine suddenly won $3 million playing the Oregon lottery. This eventually was distributed by email. Myth-busting website Snopes ran a fact check and declared the story to be false.

Media reaction: The Oregonian Editorial Board mentioned that the ruling was both a win and loss for both BOLI and the Kleins. The Oregonian stated:

“The state appeals court decision last week in the Sweet Cakes by Melissa saga was an affirmation of Oregonians’ deeply-held values of diversity and tolerance. A three-judge panel upheld the principle that businesses offering goods and services to the public cannot simply claim religious freedom and artistic expression as license to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation or other characteristics….The reversal of Avakian’s overzealous actions affirms another core belief of Oregonians – that the government must act in good faith in its regulation of citizens. Instead, Avakian distorted and misrepresented the Kleins’ words in order to declare their speech unlawful.”

History: In 2013, Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, refused to bake a cake for the wedding of lesbians Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer on the basis that gay marriage violated their rights to free speech, expression, and religion. The Bowman-Cryers complained to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries that they had been refused service because of their sexual orientation.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian affirmed an administrative law judge’s ruling that the Kleins discriminated against the Bowman-Cryers, causing them mental and emotional distress.  In 2013, the Kleins paid the fine, closed their bakery, and appealed the ruling. They sought a religious exemption from the Oregon Equality Act, contended the fine was excessive, and argued that Avakian showed bias and violated their rights to due process and free artistic expression.

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