Shocking Challenges to Religious Freedom – Part I


Freedom is not supposed to be a zero-sum game. When you gain more freedom it shouldn’t cost me any of my freedom.

Yet that seems to be happening in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell on gay marriage. The proponents of same-sex marriage aren’t content to have gained the freedom to legally marry in all fifty states. They also want to take away the freedom of those Americans whose religious beliefs teach them to oppose participation in gay marriage celebrations.

Perhaps the worst of these attacks is happening in the state of Oregon where Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, have been serving the bakery needs of gays and lesbians for many years. But when two of their lesbian clients decided to marry and wanted the Kleins to make cakes for the wedding they declined, citing their religious beliefs conflicted with this request.

Rather than seek a wedding cake elsewhere, Rachel Bowman-Cryer and her partner, Laurel Bowman-Cryer, filed a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). Brad Avakian, a commissioner with BOLI issued a ruling upholding a fine of $135,000 for violating state public accommodation laws suggested by an administrative judge in April. But hold on, it gets much worse.

According to Mark Hemingway, writing in The Weekly Standard, the couple was told to pay the fine by July 13 or the state would place a lien on their home. Avakian also issued a gag order that effectively prevents the couple from saying much of anything about the case. Not only have they lost their religious freedom, but they have lost their freedom of speech.

Their bakery was forced to close in 2013 thanks to negative publicity surrounding the case but they have managed to stay in business online. According to their lawyer, Herb Grey of Alliance Defending Freedom, the couple have never stated an intention to discriminate and only refused to fill the request that would force them to participate in a same-sex marriage.

It seems that commissioner Avakian has an agenda of his own. In addition to his ruling that the Kleins must pay the fine, and the gag order, his ruling also read:

“In addition to any emotional suffering experienced by Complainants as a direct result of Sweetcakes’ refusal to bake them a cake, the agency also seeks damages for suffering caused to the Complainants by media publicity and social media response to this case.”


The state ultimately rejected the idea of additional damages for suffering caused by negative publicity. But there is little doubt that Avakian wants to punish the Kleins severely; in fact he seems hostile to Christianity in general. He writes further:

“In addition to other emotional responses, complainant Rachel Bowman-Cryer described that being raised a Christian in the Southern Baptist Church, Respondent’s denial of service made her feel as if God made a mistake when he made her, that she wasn’t supposed to be, that she wasn’t supposed to love or be loved, have a family, or go to heaven. Laurel Bowman-Cryer, who was raised a Catholic, interpreted the denial to represent that she was not a creature created by god, not created with a soul and unworthy of holy love and life. . . These are the reasonable and very real responses to not being allowed to participate in society like everyone else.”

Mark Hemingway responded to these words:

“In other words, the fact that the Kleins justify their actions as fidelity to beliefs that are far from atypical in a country that is nominally 70 percent Christian only meant that they were inflicting additional pain on the complainants. But there is nothing reasonable about citing the lesbian couple’s own religious baggage to reinforce their claim to emotional damages against an ignorant third party. Under this logic, had they been denied a cake for secular reasons, the damage would have been less and the fine accordingly lower. It’s hard not to conclude that Avakian is punishing the Kleins for their Christian beliefs.”


In Oregon, it seems that such uber-liberal tactics may pay political dividends. The only statement the labor bureau has given to the press about Avakian’s ruling was to Media Matters, a well-known and discredited left-wing website dedicated to attacking conservative media. According to Portland’s alt-weekly Willamette Week, Avakian is rumored to be running for secretary of state next year, and prosecuting the Kleins has likely elevated his political profile in a state that favors his progressive agenda.

Most disturbing is that none of the harm done to the Kleins thus far has come from a judicial decision. It has come as a result of administrative hearings by BOLI, the state labor bureau, which has both prosecuted the complaint and sat in judgment. Look for more of these kinds of attacks on religious freedom in the days ahead. The war has just begun.


(More stories threatening religious freedom to come.)

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