Oregon Christian Bakers Ordered to Pay $135K After Refusing to Work Gay Wedding; Told to Stop Speaking About 'Obeying God, Not Man'
The Oregon Christian bakery owners who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding on the grounds that it would violate their religious convictions have been ordered to pay $135,000 in emotional damages, and have also been prohibited from speaking about standing up for their Christian beliefs.
On Thursday, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian issued his final order in the case against Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of the Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham, who were found guilty of discrimination in January for declining to bake a cake for a lesbian couple's wedding in 2013. Avakian ordered the Kleins to pay complainant Rachel Bowman-Cryer $75,000 for damages and $60,000 to her partner Laurel Bowman-Cryer.
"Respondents' claim they are not denying service because of complainants' sexual orientation but rather because they do not wish to participate in their same-sex wedding ceremony. The forum has already found there to be no distinction between the two," Avakian wrote in his order. "Further, to allow respondents, a for-profit business, to deny any services to people because of their protected class, would be tantamount to allowing legal separation of people based on their sexual orientation from at least some portion of the public marketplace."
In defending the amount in which he ordered the Kleins to pay, Avakian, the head of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, claimed that the denial of service caused both women to go through emotional distress and added that Rachel Bowman-Cryer laid depressed in bed for days after she was told that Sweet Cakes does not service same-sex weddings.
"There is ample evidence in the record of specific, identifiable types of emotional suffering both complainants experienced because of this denial of service," the commissioner wrote. "The proposal for LBC is less because she was not present at the denial and the ALJ found her testimony about the extent and severity of her emotional suffering to be exaggerated in some respects."
The Kleins, who said last year that they were forced to close their shop in 2013 because harassment from LGBT advocates caused so much strain on their business, have also been told to "cease and desist" from speaking publicly about how they plan to continue to stand for their Christian faith and refuse to participate in same-sex weddings, as they now operate their business from their home.
"... Aaron has been charged with advertising. (Basically talking about not wanting to participate in a same-sex weddings). This effectively strips us of all our First Amendment rights," the Kleins posted on the Sweet Cakes By Melissa Facebook page. "According to the state of Oregon we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech. We will NOT give up this fight, and we will NOT be silenced.
"We stand for God's truth, God's Word and freedom for ALL americans," the post continued. "We are here to obey God, not man, and we will not conform to this world. If we were to lose everything it would be totally worth it for our Lord who gave his one and only son, Jesus, for us! God will win this fight!"
According to The Daily Signal, the "cease and desist" order is a result of an interview the Kleins did with the Family Research Council, in which Aaron Klein reportedly said "This fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong."
The Bowman-Cryers' lawyer argued that the Kleins violated a state law that bans people from speaking or acting on behalf of a place of public accommodation to promote discriminating against any of the state's protected social classes.
Although the lawyer's cease and desist argument was thrown out by administrative law Judge Alan McCullough in a proposed order in April, Avakian reversed McCullough's decision.
Aaron Klein told Fox News that they plan to appeal the decision and that they will not comply.
"This man has no power over me. He seems to think he can tell me to be quiet. That doesn't sit well with me and I refuse to comply," Klein said. "When my constitutional freedoms have been violated by the state, I'm going to speak out. That's the way it is."
The Kleins' lawyer, Anna Harmon, told The Daily Signal that Avakian's cease and desist order is further proof that the state is trying to force businesses that they don't politically agree with to conform.
"Brad Avakian has been outspoken throughout this case about his intent to 'rehabilitate' those whose beliefs do not conform to the state's ideas," Harmon said. "Now he has ruled that the Kleins' simple statement of personal resolve to be true to their faith is unlawful. This is a brazen attack on every American's right to freely speak and imposes government orthodoxy on those who do not agree with government sanctioned ideas."
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said Avakian's decision is a "fundamental violation" of freedom of speech and went as far as to label Avakian as no better than a bureaucrat in communist China.
"It is exactly this kind of oppressive persecution by government officials that led the pilgrims to America. And Commissioner Avakian's order that the Kleins stop speaking about this case is even more outrageous — and also a fundamental violation of their right to free speech under the First Amendment," Spakovsky said. "Avakian would have fit right in as a bureaucrat in the Soviet Union or Red China. Oregon should be ashamed that such an unprincipled, scurrilous individual is a government official in the state."