The Oregon Court of Appeals announced that it reversed in part a decision that forced Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein out of business by penalizing them $135,000 for refusing to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. The court held that a state agency, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), acted non-neutrally against the bakers’ religion and remanded the case back to the same agency to reconsider the damages award.
“Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty. “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. It’s time for the state of Oregon’s hostility toward Aaron and Melissa to end.”
In its 37-page opinion, the court concluded 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.” It added, “[T]he 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.”
Former Ambassador to the European Union and First Liberty network attorney, C. Boyden Gray of Boyden Gray & Associates is lead appellate counsel for the case.
The United States Supreme Court originally sent the case back to the Oregon courts to reconsider in light of its Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. There the Justices reminded government officials that they cannot be hostile to the free exercise of the religious beliefs of its citizens. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Supreme Court’s finding of anti-Christian bias ended the state’s case against the baker. Today’s opinion allows the case to continue in the agency that the Oregon Court of Appeals found to have been biased against the Kleins.
The Kleins intend to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court and, if necessary, to the United States Supreme Court.