Court yanks huge fine on Christian bakers, but makes bizarre ruling to keep heat on

Aaron and Melissa Klein were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

The Supreme Court of the United States, when the case involving Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop was pending, ruled that the state acted with “hostility” to his Christian faith by penalizing him for not advocating for same-sex weddings with his artistry.

Now the Oregon Court of Appeals has reached a similar conclusion about its own Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Officials with First Liberty Institute explained the state court reversed a punishment handed out by biased state officials to Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein.

The state penalized them $135,000 for declining to promote a same-sex wedding with their artistry.

The court’s ruling said BOLI “acted non-neutrally against the bakers’ religion.”

However, the court sent the case back to the same agency for further review.

“Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” said Stephanie Taub, of First Liberty. “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.”

The appeals court said, “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.”

The court said, “[T]he 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.”

The Kleins case had been at the Supreme Court, which returned it to the state courts to reconsider in light of the Masterpiece precedent.

The instructions were that government officials cannot be hostile to the free exercise of the religious beliefs of its citizens.

The ruling, because it does not end the case entirely, the legal team explained, will be appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court and, if necessary, to the United States Supreme Court.

WND reported earlier on the case, in which a demand from Laurel Bowman-Cryer and Rachel Bowman-Cryer for the bakery to promote their same-sex event, was declined.

One official with BOLI, Brad Avakian, publicly condemned the Kleins’ actions as “hate-filled” even before the dispute came before him as commissioner of the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industry.

He imposed a fine of $135,000 on the couple, forcing them out of business.

Court documents reveal, “Avakian’s statements about the Kleins’ religious beliefs – which he uttered before BOLI had even completed” an investigation.

“In its Masterpiece decision, the Supreme Court reminded government officials everywhere, that they must be neutral toward and respectful of the religious beliefs of its citizens,” said Taub, earlier in the case. “The Oregon decision against the Kleins was polluted by the same anti-religious bias that caused the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop. It’s time for the Oregon courts to adhere to the Supreme Court’s precedent.”

During the review, the judges in Oregon “discussed whether hostility toward religion was exhibited.” A report explained, “Presiding Judge Erin Lagesen pointed to the fact that the BOLI prosecutor “compared the [Kleins’] religious beliefs to prejudice,” which could indicate a bias.

Bureau of Labor and Industry officials repeatedly have claimed they were not biased.

But the state of Oregon had so opposed the Kleins’ faith that the BOLI issued a gag order, limiting the Kleins’ ability to talk publicly about their beliefs, First Liberty said.

The Oregon case drew the ire of Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham.

“[Avakian] stated that the Kleins had ‘disobey[ed]’ Oregon law and needed to be ‘rehabilitate[d],'” Graham said at the time.

On Facebook, Graham wrote: “This is unbelievable! … Brad Avakian, Oregon’s Bureau of Labor & Industries Commissioner, upheld [the previous] ruling that the Kleins have to pay the lesbian couple $135,000 for a long list of alleged damages including: ‘acute loss of confidence,’ ‘high blood pressure,’ ‘impaired digestion,’ ‘loss of appetite,’ ‘migraine headaches,’ ‘pale and sick at home after work,’ ‘resumption of smoking habit,’ ‘weight gain,’ and ‘worry.’ Give me a break. In my opinion, this couple should pay the Kleins $135,000 for all they’ve been through!”

Graham said that even “more outrageous is that Avakian has also now ordered the Kleins to ‘cease and desist’ from speaking publicly about not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings based on their Christian beliefs.”

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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