WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court punted in a high-profile civil rights case this week, instructing a lower court to reconsider its ruling punishing Christian bakers in Gresham, Oregon, who refused on religious grounds to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
The ruling, which comes a year after the Supreme Court reversed a Colorado ruling compelling a Christian baker to make a cake for a gay couple, gives the married bakers, Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, another opportunity to contest the finding of liability under Oregon’s public accommodations law.
At the original hearing, Oregon Administrative Law Judge Alan McCullough ordered the Kleins to pay a total of $135,000 in damages to a cake-seeking lesbian couple. The Kleins were forced to close their custom-cake bakery. A state appeals court upheld the award.
According to their petition to the high court, the Kleins “owned a bakery, which they operated in accord with their religious convictions. They designed and created custom cakes—only custom cakes. And they did so without regard to the sexual orientation of their customers, including the complainants in this case, who had commissioned a wedding cake from the Kleins for a traditional wedding just two years before setting this litigation in motion,” the document stated.
“What the Kleins could not do in good conscience was to design and create a custom wedding cake to celebrate a wedding ceremony that contravened their religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”
Appearing on Fox News Channel on June 18 with her lawyer, Stephanie Taub, Melissa Klein said she was “really happy” to be given a “second chance” to fight the charges.
“We lost our business. It’s been six years now and it’s definitely taken a toll on our family,” Klein said.
Taub said the state of Oregon acted with “anti-religious hostility” toward the Kleins. “No one should be forced to express a message they disagree with,” the attorney added.
The high court ruled June 17 in the case, known as Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, without hearing oral arguments, performing what lawyers call a “grant, vacate, and remand.” This means the court simultaneously granted the bakers’ request to review the case, set aside the unfavorable ruling by the Court of Appeals of Oregon, and returned the case to that court with instructions to reconsider it.
Specifically, the Supreme Court ordered the Oregon court to reconsider the case, in light of its ruling last year in an even more high-profile confectionery case known as Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
In that June 2018 ruling, the Supreme Court found that the Colorado civil rights agency had failed to treat religious expression neutrally when it exhibited hostility to a baker’s religious beliefs. Two gay men had asked the baker, Jack C. Phillips, to bake a wedding cake for their same-sex nuptials. The Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 that Phillips’ rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment had been infringed and reversed the commission’s decision forcing the bakery to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples.
Ethan W. Blevins, a staff attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, co-authored a friend-of-the-court brief in the Kleins’ case.
PLF is concerned about the growing power of the so-called administrative state. Blevins told The Epoch Times his organization got involved because administrative law judges across America “are deciding sensitive issues,” often favoring the government’s position, “without clear guidance from the Supreme Court.”
In his brief, Blevins argued “state laws pose unique First Amendment problems given their sweeping ‘breadth and operation.’”
“Although this case deals with cake artistry, the court of appeals noted that the Oregon law could also apply to ‘a person whose business is writing commissioned music or poetry for weddings, or producing a sculpture or portrait of the couple kissing at an altar.’ … Thus, without this Court’s guidance, state agencies will continue to ‘awkwardly appl[y]’ state public accommodations laws to “a person whose ‘business’ is artistic expression.”