A second chance for Sweetcakes

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Christian bakers head back to court.

It’s a familiar storyline: In Oregon in 2013, bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein turned down a request to bake a custom wedding cake for two lesbian customers.  The Kleins were polite about it, but firm. They cited their religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. 

The two women complained to the state, which eventually fined the Kleins $135,000 for not making the cake.

The Kleins appealed the judgment—and lost.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision and sent the case back to the Oregon Court of Appeals for another hearing. This time, the state court must consider the Kleins’ case in light of the high court ruling in favor of another Christian baker: Jack Phillips of Colorado, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Joining us now with an update on the Kleins’ case is Keisha Russell. She’s an attorney with First Liberty, the law firm representing the couple.

Good morning, Keisha!


REICHARD: Aaron and Melissa Klein were back at the Oregon Court of Appeals earlier this month. Tell us how that went and whether it differed from the first time around?

RUSSELL: So, yes, Aaron and Melissa Klein were grateful to the Supreme Court for giving them another bite at the apple, so we went back to the Oregon Court of Appeals January 9th and they heard arguments mostly focusing on the hostility of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. So, it did differ a little from the first time because the first time was about the merits—the merits being whether you can force religious clients to violate their religious beliefs by endorsing messages that, again, violate their religious beliefs. This time it was more about whether the state of Oregon violated Aaron and Melissa Klein’s right to neutrality and whether the government officials violated the requirement that they respect all religious beliefs and provide Aaron and Melissa Klein with an impartial adjudicator. So, the Oregon Court of Appeals asked a lot of questions about the differences between Aaron and Melissa Klein’s case and the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and whether the same type of hostility was present. Of course we know it doesn’t have to be identical, it just has to be present. And we think the judges did a really good job of asking both sides some really difficult questions. We’re excited to see what happens next. 

REICHARD: Now, the Supreme Court ordered the Oregon Court of Appeals to reconsider this case in light of the Masterpiece ruling. But that doesn’t mean an automatic win for the Kleins, does it?

RUSSELL: Right. It doesn’t. It just means that we get another chance to present our case before the Oregon Court of Appeals for them to examine whether the state of Oregon behaved with hostility towards Aaron and Melissa Klein, which we believe that they did. Some of the commissioners who were charged with investigating the case posted public comments prior to the investigation stating things about Aaron and Melissa Klein’s religious beliefs. We think that that shows that they win bias and they did not in fact consider Aaron and Melissa Klein’s case with neutrality the way they should and are required. 

REICHARD: And as we know,  in Masterpiece the court didn’t resolve the question whether Christian wedding vendors can be forced to participate in same-sex ceremonies. They didn’t really get to that. Do you think the Kleins’ case end up back at the Supreme Court and give us a definitive ruling on that issue? 

RUSSELL: It’s definitely possible. If we don’t get a favorable ruling from the Oregon Court of Appeals, we do intend to appeal again to the Supreme Court of the United States and we are hopeful that we can get an answer to this question. And we feel like the First Amendment is pretty clear about this that the government cannot force religious objectors to violate their religious beliefs and endorse messages that they don’t agree with. And we think it’s a decision that the Supreme Court really needs to come to and finally decide. I think the Jack Phillips’ case was so outrageous how Colorado treated him that the Supreme Court didn’t even have to get to that issue. They were able to decide it on basic premises of the First Amendment. That is, that the government must be neutral to religion. 

REICHARD: I’m wondering just on the personal side of things. This has been a really long slog for the Kleins. How are they holding up?

RUSSELL: They’re troopers. The Kleins are willing to go the long haul. They think it’s important to have this precedent for America and for other religious Americans who might face these kinds of conflicts in the future. And, of course, it’s been a long time since 2013 at least since this has been going on, so I think they’re willing to keep going. But we’re glad that they’ve been courageous.

REICHARD: Keisha Russell is an attorney with First Liberty. Thanks so much for joining us today!

RUSSELL: Thank you.

(Photo/Associated Press/Photo by Everton Bailey Jr./The Oregonian/Oregon Live) Melissa Klein (left), co-owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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