The Oregon Court of Appeals has reversed part of a state 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 with bias against the bakers' religion, sending the case back to the same agency to reconsider the damages award.
Oregon's ruling comes after the U.S. Supreme Court slapped the state of Colorado for showing hostility against Christianity in a similar case: Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
In its 37-page opinion, the Oregonian court concluded, "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, "The 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."
CBN News has reported for years about the Kleins, two Oregon bakers who were fined for refusing to make a cake promoting a gay commitment ceremony. They were punished with a $135,000 fine for declining to create a same-sex wedding cake in 2013.
The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 where the justices threw out a previous state court ruling against the Kleins, sending the case back down to that court in Oregon.
The high court said the state court needed to reconsider the case in light of last year's Supreme Court ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips who couldn't make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The court had ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed anti-religious bias against the Christian baker.
The Kleins are represented by attorneys with First Liberty Institute, a non-profit religious rights law firm. Former Ambassador to the European Union and now First Liberty network attorney, C. Boyden Gray of Boyden Gray & Associates serves as the lead appellate counsel for the case.
"Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too," said Senior Counsel for First Liberty Stephanie Taub. "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."
After fighting the courts for the last eight years, the case is far from over. The Kleins intend to appeal the court of appeals decision to the Oregon Supreme Court and, if necessary, back again to the U.S. Supreme Court.