For the second time, the Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a ruling from the state civil rights division that said a Christian bakery illegally discriminated against a lesbian couple after it refused to sell them a wedding cake back in 2013. But the court also decided that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries failed to "exhibit religious neutrality" when it demanded that the Christian bakery should pay $135,000 in damages for the discrimination case.
According to Oregon Live, the court sent back the case to the civil rights division to reassess the noneconomic damages brought about by illegal discrimination. The bakery in contempt is Sweet Cakes by Melissa, whose owners Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to bake a wedding cake for Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer, who filed a complaint in 2013 over discrimination.
An investigation by the Bureau of Labor and Industries found that the Christian bakery had violated the lesbian couple's civil rights, a decision that was appealed by the Kleins, arguing that baking a cake for a same-sex wedding was not in line with their Christian beliefs. Under Oregon law, discrimination against members of the LGBT in jobs and places that serve the public is prohibited.
In 2015, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the civil rights division's ruling, but in 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the ruling. It passed on the case to the state appellate court to review its decision based on a similar ruling made in 2018 in Colorado. The appeals court then considered the Supreme Court's decision in the Colorado case and another case in 2021.
They also found that the state civil right division ordered Sweet Cakes by Melissa to pay up to $135,000 in damages partly based on a statement Aaron Klein made to Rachel Bowman-Cryer's mother, Cheryl McPherson, in which he quoted a Bible verse. The court also found that the state civil rights division had awarded the damages despite finding that Klein's statement to McPherson was not correctly relayed to the lesbian couple.
"We adhere to our prior decision upholding [Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries' (BOLI)] determinations that Aaron unlawfully discriminated against the Bowman-Cryers based on sexual orientation," Circuit Judge Erin Lagesen, who authored the three-judge panel opinion, wrote, as per the Christian Post. "We reach a different conclusion with respect to our prior affirmance of BOLI's noneconomic damages award."
"BOLI's handling of the damages portion of the case does not reflect the neutrality toward religion required by the Free Exercise Clause," the judge wrote. "We therefore set aside the damages portion of the order and remand for further proceedings related to remedy."
Meanwhile, First Liberty Institute's Stephanie Taub, who represented the Kleins in the case, argued that Oregon was "trying to have its cake and eat it, too." Taub complained about how the court, which knew about the "anti-Christian" bias of the labor agency, was sending the case right back to them for a "do-over."
She demanded, "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."