Baptist concerns greet order against bakers
Brad Avakian, commissioner of Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries, issued an order July 2 against Aaron and Melissa Klein. His order affirmed a proposed payment for damages to a lesbian couple and required the Kleins to refrain from providing notice they will not bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
The Kleins' next step would be the state Court of Appeals.
SBC President Ronnie Floyd called Avakian's actions "not only unprecedented, but alarming."
"This is a threat to every person's freedom in this nation, including our most precious freedom, religious freedom," Floyd told Baptist Press in written comments. "The people of America need to wake up and see this for what it is: an assault on the free exercise of religion, which is a violation of the Constitution."
Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement for BP, "Let's be clear: this family is being threatened with financial ruin not because they were impeding anyone else's freedom, but simply because they could not in good conscience participate in something they believe would be morally wrong for them to do. Such bullying is neither right nor American."
Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, said the order raises two significant issues: (1) What kind of protection will religious freedom receive? (2) "[H]ow will pastors shepherd their people through such matters?"
"The severity of the action taken against the Kleins demonstrates that Jesus' admonition to the Twelve that they be 'shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves' (Matt. 10:16) still applies," Adams told BP in a written statement.
The order against the Kleins is another in a growing number of rulings against wedding service providers who conscientiously object to participating in same-sex ceremonies. The number of vendors whose religious freedom is threatened is sure to increase in the wake of the Supreme Court's June 26 opinion legalizing gay marriage throughout the country. Before the high court's decision, bakers, florists, photographers and other professionals in states where same-sex marriage already was legal had been especially vulnerable to efforts to force them to contradict their belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
Aaron Klein -- co-owner with his wife of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Ore. -- declined in January 2013 a request by Laurel Bowman for a cake for her ceremony with Rachel Cryer based on his Christian convictions. The Kleins were willing to serve homosexuals but believed their faith prevents them from baking a cake for a same-sex ceremony.
Bowman and Cryer had a commitment ceremony in 2013 and a wedding in 2014 after a federal judge struck down Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage. After a public backlash, the Kleins -- who have five children -- closed their bakery and moved their business to their home.
In his order, Avakian rejected the Kleins' contention their refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage is not based on discrimination against homosexuals. There is "no distinction between the two," he wrote.
"This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage," Avakian said. "It is about a business's refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation."
As part of his order, Avakian prohibited the Kleins from "publishing, circulating, issuing or displaying ... any communication, notice, advertisement or sign" that effectively indicates they will not provide services to a person based on his or her sexual orientation.
That gag order "effectively strips us of all our first amendment rights," the Kleins said in a July 2 post on the Sweetcakes 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. 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!"
Their lawyer, Anna Harmon, said in a written statement Avakian's order "has made this case about an overpowered elected official using his position to root out thought and speech with which he personally disagrees," The Portland Oregonian reported.
The Kleins have 60 days to petition the state Court of Appeals to review Avakian's order, according to The Oregonian.
In a July 11 Facebook post, the Kleins quoted Jesus' words in Matt. 5:11: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me."
Adams said the Kleins' case raises such questions as: "[W]hat does the U.S. Constitution mean when it states that the government cannot prohibit 'the free exercise' of religion? Will the courts protect the rights of people to exercise their religion in the marketplace, or is religious expression only protected in the church house and one's private life? How will public accommodation laws, tax and other laws, be balanced against the freedom to exercise one's religion? These will be decided by the Supreme Court, I suspect."
Another issue is pastoral guidance of Christians, Adams said. "Religious expression often collides with governmental and marketplace concerns," he said. "This is nothing new. Leading the church to live holy and love her neighbors, even when those neighbors despise the church, has been a pastoral responsibility since New Testament times."
The Northwest Baptist Convention consists of Southern Baptist churches in Oregon, Washington and part of Idaho.
An administrative law judge ruled in January the Kleins violated an Oregon law that protects civil rights based on sexual orientation. In April, the judge, Alan McCullough, proposed damages of $135,000.
Avakian's July 2 order finalized the compensation to the lesbian couple for "emotional, mental and physical suffering." He divided the damages between the two women in the following way: $75,000 for Rachel Bowman-Cryer and $60,000 for Laurel Bowman-Cryer.
He also ordered the Kleins to "cease and desist from denying the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges" of their business to any person on account of his or her sexual orientation.