Christian bakers fined $135,000 for refusing to make cake for a gay wedding fight back
Posted September 15, 2016
The Christian owners of an Oregon bakery, who were fined $135,000 for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, have filed a reply brief in court, arguing that the government violated their religious beliefs.
Attorneys for Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of the now-shuttered Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham, Oregon, submitted the brief to the Oregon Court of Appeals Thursday, alleging the government cannot force artists to celebrate causes or issues that violate their conscience.
The Kleins, who are married, are represented by conservative firm First Liberty as well as Boyden Gray, former White House counsel for President H.W. Bush.
The lawyers contend that Oregon officials violated the Kleins' constitutional rights when they issued the fine over the wedding cake refusal, proposing that the government essentially overstepped its bounds.
"This case is, first and foremost, about whether Oregon has commandeered individuals’ liberty to compel them — upon pain of crippling financial penalties — to facilitate the multitude of events in which 'persons' protected by (discrimination law) might participate," the brief reads. "Such events might be weddings, as here, or religious rituals, sex-segregated club initiations, or abortions."
The "summary of argument" part of the document goes on to say that the court must discern whether the state has also decided to force Catholics to sculpt totems for Wiccans, whether feminists must photograph fraternity events or whether a pro-life videographer must produce films on abortions.
"It has not, and that ends the case," the document continues, tying the cake refusal to the aforementioned hypotheticals.
Supporters of the Kleins have said the bakers should be protected from producing art, messages or products that violate their sincerely held Christian beliefs — a sentiment espoused by the bakers' attorneys.
"The First Amendment prohibits government compulsion of art and of speech," Gray said in a statement. "We must ensure that freedom of speech and religious expression is preserved for all Americans."
Of course, not everyone sees baking a cake as a form of "art" or "speech," as has been noted in similar cases.
The brief itself questions whether the government can force people to use their time and talents to contribute to others' expressions, and, at what point, the application of a law becomes a situation in which the "unlawful targeting of religious practice" takes root.
"(Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries') refusal to grant the Kleins an individualized exemption from (discrimination law), as permitted by Oregon’s Constitution, only highlights its impermissible targeting," the document continues.
Within weeks, the story had spread through media outlets around the nation and the world. Soon, Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries launched an investigation and, after attempts to reconcile, Commissioner Brad Avakian ordered the Kleins to pay the couple $135,000, as The Oregonian reported.
After initially delaying payment of the money, the Kleins doled out $136,927.07, which is now in an escrow account. Their legal team told TheBlaze earlier this year that, though they planned to fight the order, payment was essential if the couple wanted to appeal. They proceeded to file an official appeal in April.
Both sides of the dispute have continued to dig in their heels with advocates of both the state and the Kleins believing that the case could help set precedent.
For his part, Avakian, speaking generally about discrimination cases, told The Oregonian in 2013, "Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs, but that doesn't mean that folks have the right to discriminate."
He said that the goal isn't to shut down businesses, but that it "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," he said.
The $135,000 order will be given to the Bowman-Cryers if the Kleins lose their legal battle. The money was awarded for "emotional and mental suffering resulting from the denial of service," according to the bureau.
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