The case of the Christian bakers from Gresham who refused to make a wedding cake for two women reached the Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday.
Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, said making the cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer would violate their religious beliefs.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 in damages after the women filed a complaint. The Kleins appealed the ruling.
Their attorneys told a three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday that the penalty is unfair because the Kleins were exercising their freedom of religion.
Attorney Adam Gustafson also compared the Kleins’ cakes to works of art, saying courts have traditionally given artists a long leash when it comes to freedom of expression.
That prompted presiding Judge Rebecca Duncan to ask: “So, if I go through a cafeteria sandwich line and the person making the sandwich is believing that they are creating a piece of art, then that itself makes it art regardless of whether I can perceive that or anyone would perceive that as art?”
“I’m not aware of any real-life sandwich shop like that,” Gustafson responded. “But if a sandwich shop put into constructing a hoagie the same effort that Melissa Klein put into designing and executing one of these wedding cakes, that would be art.”
Arguing on behalf of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, Oregon Department of Justice Attorney Carson Whitehead said what the Kleins did was wrong.
“It’s enormously harmful. It goes to the very sense of self,” Whitehead said.
He said the Kleins were willing to bake cakes for opposite-sex couples but refused to do so for a same-sex couple, meaning they were in violation of Oregon laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The panel of judges will likely issue a decision in the case later this year.
After the hearing, Aaron and Melissa Klein briefly spoke with reporters outside the courtroom.
“We just want to be able to live in a place where the government tolerates and accepts differences,” Melissa Klein said. “We hope even if people have different beliefs from us, that they will show each other tolerance and that we can peacefully live together and still follow our faith. That’s all we want.”
The Bowman-Cryers also attended the hearing. They issued a statement through their attorney, which read in part:
“We support religious freedom as a fundamental value in America. But religious beliefs should not entitle anyone to discriminate, target or hurt others. Every family deserves respect, dignity and the opportunity to live free from discrimination.”