PORTLAND, Ore. — Attorneys for an Oregon couple that was ordered to pay $135,000 in emotional damages to two lesbians after they declined to provide a cake for the women’s “wedding” have filed their argument for appeal with the Oregon Court of Appeals.
This case “is about the state forcing business owners to publicly facilitate ceremonies, rituals, and other expressive events with which they have fundamental and often, as in this case, religious disagreements,” the brief reads. “In this case, BOLI misinterpreted [the law], mistakenly concluding that declining to facilitate same-sex weddings is legally the same as refusing to sell goods or services to gay people.”
It alleges that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) not only violated Aaron and Melissa Klein’s religious and free speech rights, but also their constitutional right to due process. The brief contends that BOLI Commissioner Brad Avakian made public statements that suggested the Kleins had “disobey[ed]” Oregon law and needed to be “rehabilitate[d]” even before their case had been heard.
“In America, you’re protected by the Constitution and you’re also innocent until proven guilty,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, in a press released on Tuesday. “Commissioner Brad Avakian decided the Kleins were guilty before he even heard their case. This is an egregious violation of the Kleins’ rights to due process. We hope the Oregon Court of Appeals will remedy this by reversing or dismissing the government’s case against the Kleins.”
As previously reported, in February 2015, a judge with BOLI declared the Kleins guilty of discrimination for declining to make a cake for the 2014 event. The Kleins had served the women, Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, in other ways, and the women returned because the couple had treated them kindly.
“I have customers come in almost on a weekly basis that are homosexual,” Aaron Klein told reporters. “They can buy my stuff. I sell stuff. I talk with them. That’s fine. … This was not the first time we’ve served these girls.”
But because the Kleins said that they didn’t feel comfortable with fulfilling that particular order because of the event that it involved, the women filed a discrimination complaint against the bakers.
“We were being asked to participate in something that we could not participate in,” Klein’s wife, Melissa, stated, outlining that the wedding cake is one of the most personal and intricate parts of the occasion.
Some Christians believe that being a part of a same-sex event violates the biblical command in 1 Timothy 5:22 not to be “partakers in other men’s sins,” as well as the command in Ephesians 5:7, “Be not ye therefore partakers with them.”
After the Kleins were declared guilty of discrimination, Cryer and Bowman submitted individual lists of just under 100 aspects of suffering in order to receive damages. They included “acute loss of confidence,” “doubt,” “distrust of men,” “distrust of former friends,” “excessive sleep,” “discomfort,” “high blood pressure,” “impaired digestion,” “loss of appetite,” “migraine headaches,” “loss of pride,” “mental rape,” “resumption of smoking habit,” “shock” “stunned,” “surprise,” “uncertainty,” “weight gain” and “worry.”
But the Kleins told the court that they too had suffered because of the attacks that they received over their desire to live out their Christian faith in the workplace. They stated that they endured “mafia tactics” as their car was vandalized and broken into on two occasions, their vendors were harassed by homosexual advocates resulting in some businesses breaking ties with them, and they received threatening emails wishing rape, death and Hell upon the family.
As a result, the Kleins had to close their business and move it into their private home.
In April, Alan McCullough, an administrative judge with the bureau, recommended a payment of $135,000, with one of the women receiving $75,000 and the other $60,000. Prosecutors had sought damages of $75,000 each.
In June, BOLI officially accepted McCollough’s recommendation and ordered the Kleins to pay the women $135,000 in light of the damages Cryer and Bowman listed.
The Kleins then asked for a stay of the order, but were denied. As the couple initially refused to pay the damages, believing that they had done no wrong, officials moved to docket the judgment and seek permission to place a property lien against the Kleins or collect the money in other ways.
In December, the state emptied all of the Klein’s personal banking accounts—including money set aside to pay their tithe. The Kleins told reporters following the incident that they had three personal bank accounts: one checking, one savings, and one account marked “God’s money” for their tithe at church. The three accounts contained just under $7,000 total.
Faced with a nine percent interest penalty for not paying the $135,000, the Kleins then opted to submit a check for the amount in full, using money donated by supporters that was not in their personal bank account. They dropped off a check for $136,927.07 after realizing that the government had seized their personal accounts. The funds are currently in an escrow account pending the final outcome of the case.
“There is little to be said for BOLI’s interpretation” of Oregon’s public accommodations law, the brief filed this week reads. “It lacks support in statute or precedent, equates being gay with a celebration rejected by many gay people, and forces people to convey messages against their will and religious beliefs—all while, at a minimum, raising serious constitutional questions.”
“BOLI’s broad equation of celebrations (weddings) of gay conduct (marriage) with gay status rewrites and expands Oregon’s public accommodations law,” it continues.
“Whatever one thinks of same-sex weddings, there are respectable reasons for not wanting to facilitate them. Indeed, the Supreme Court has held that even with respect to same-sex marriage—a thing quite distinct from same-sex weddings and a liberty protected by the Constitution—there are ‘decent and honorable religious or philosophical’ reasons for opposing it.”
In addition to the First Liberty Institute, Boyden Gray, former White House Counsel for President George H. W. Bush and ambassador to the European Union, is also handling the Klein’s appeal.
“The Constitution guarantees the rights of free exercise of religion, free speech, and due process for every American,” he said in a statement. “We hope the Oregon Court of Appeals will defend the Kleins’ rights in accordance with state and federal law.”