Supreme Court dodges dispute over Christian baker, same-sex wedding

Kevin Daley, DCNF

Image via: firstliberty.org

The Supreme Court lifted an order Monday punishing a Christian baker in Oregon who refused to produce a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, telling a lower court to reconsider the dispute in light of the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

The decision keeps a contentious social dispute over the rights of religious dissenters and LGBT patrons off the high court’s docket in the near term.

The Oregon case is in many respects a redux of the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, which pertained to an Evangelical baker in Colorado. Though the justices found for the baker because a state panel displayed animus towards his beliefs, the Court did not say whether conservative religious believers can cite the First Amendment in refusing to accommodate a same-sex wedding.

Monday’s dispute arose in Oregon in 2013 when Aaron and Melissa Klein, who created custom baked goods through their business “Sweet Cakes by Melissa,” declined to produce a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman. The Kleins are Christians who believe marriage was instituted as a union of men and women.

Cryer and Bowman filed a complaint with a state anti-discrimination panel. In turn, the Kleins argued their actions were protected under the First Amendment’s free speech and free exercise of religion clauses.

In a subsequent proceeding, state officials found that the Kleins violated Oregon’s public accommodations law. The Kleins were ordered to pay out a $135,000 fine and cease discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. They have since closed their business because of the financial penalty.

A state court in Oregon upheld that decision, finding that cakes do not deserve full First Amendment protection because they incorporate many non-expressive elements, and whatever expression they convey is not imputed to the creator. The court further found that precedent barred the Kleins’ free exercise claim.

On remand from the justices, the Oregon court will search the case record for evidence of anti-religious animus against the Kleins.

First Liberty Institute, a cause lawyering firm specializing in religious liberty issues, represents the Klein family. The case is No. 18-547 Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

This is breaking news. This post will be updated. 

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