PORTLAND, Oregon, January 3, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A U.S. court of appeal dealt religious freedom another legal blow last week as it upheld a penalty against Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein for declining to create a “wedding” cake for two lesbians almost five years ago.
Lawyers for the Kleins said state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and the state Bureau of Labor and Industries violated the Kleins’ rights as artists to free speech, their rights to religious freedom and their rights as defendants to a due process.
Avakian had ordered the owners of now-closed Sweet Cakes by Melissa to pay emotional-distress damages of $135,000 to the lesbians.
The Oregon Court of Appeals sided with the state last week, the Washington Post reports, saying the Kleins failed to show the state targeted them for their religious beliefs.
The court said the Kleins’ argument that their cakes are an artistic expression is “entitled to be taken seriously,” but it’s not enough for the couple to assert their cakes constitute art; they must show that others perceive their creations like a sculpture or painting.
“Although we accept that the Kleins imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices,” the judges said, “they have made no showing that other people will necessarily experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as ‘expression’ rather than as food.”
First Liberty Institute, the legal group representing the Kleins, criticized the ruling.
“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,” said First Liberty President Kelly Shackelford. “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs.”
The court also said that public statements from Avakian before deciding the case did not establish a lack of impartiality.
Avakian had told local media around the time of the 2015 fine, “The goal is to rehabilitate. For those who do violate the law, we want them to learn from that experience and have a good, successful business in Oregon.”
Avakian had also modified the proposed order from the administrative law judge he’d appointed to include a condition ordering the Kleins not to speak “publicly about not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings based on their Christian beliefs.”
The Kleins declined in 2013 to create a cake for Rachel Bowman-Cryer and her same-sex partner based upon their religious convictions.
The lesbians subsequently filed a complaint with Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, alleging discrimination on the part of the suburban Portland bakers on the basis of sexual orientation—despite same-sex “marriage” not having become legal in Oregon until 2014.
The state determined that the Kleins had violated a 2007 Oregon law protecting the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations. The law provides an exemption for religious organizations, but does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Even though the Kleins had served Bowman-Cryer and her partner in the past prior to their request for a gay “wedding” cake, Avakian sided with the lesbian couple, awarding the $135,000 in damages.
The alleged emotional trauma list in the complaint from Bowman-Cryer and her partner included “excessive sleep,” “high blood pressure,” “impaired digestion,” “loss of appetite,” “migraine headaches” and “weight gain.”
They also claimed the incident left them feeling “mentally raped.”
The Kleins and their five children had sent cakes decorated with hearts and the message, “We really do love you!” to LGBT activist groups after they were fined.
“Today’s ruling sends a strong signal that Oregon remains open to all,” Avakian said after the ruling was released.