by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.
April 24, 2015
At least according to the State of Oregon. For that is the amount of the fine an administrative law judge (ALJ) recommended be levied against Aaron and Melissa Klein in his Proposed Opinion released today.
What did they do to deserve this fine?
They hold the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, and asked that they be left free to live according to that belief as they continued to live as they always had — in a quiet, peaceable manner, running their small business.
Too bad, according to the State of Oregon.
For when a couple walked into their shop requesting that Aaron and Melissa create a cake to celebrate their same-sex wedding, the Kleins refused to violate their consciences to do so, the couple sued and brought the weight of the State of Oregon down upon their heads. The State Bureau of Labor and Industries charged them under various provisions of state law for this act of obedience to their consciences. Never mind that the couple was able to obtain another cake for their wedding within days and even received a free cake from celebrity pastry chef Duff Goldman. Aaron and Melissa must be forced to comply. Now the State is trying to force their compliance to the tune of $135,000.00.
The Proposed Opinion contains many errors. It is built on and reaffirms the ALJ’s previous, shoddy reasoning that none of the Kleins’ constitutional rights were seriously implicated in this case.
But chief among the errors here is that the ALJ completely focused on the emotional and other damages the aggrieved couple experienced throughout this matter — while completely ignoring the hateful vitriol directed at the Kleins and other ways they suffered throughout this entire ordeal. An opinion which considers one but not the other is not just. Not only have the Kleins’ constitutional rights been trampled, but their true suffering is ignored.
Moreover, as reflected in the Proposed Opinion, the State of Oregon continued to hound the Klein with demands for more and more punishment:
“The [State’s] theory of liability is that since [the Kleins] brought the case to the media’s attention and kept it there by repeatedly appearing in public to make statements deriding Complainants, it was foreseeable that this attention would negatively impact Complainants, making [the Kleins] liable for any resultant emotional suffering experienced by Complainants.”
So according to the State of Oregon, discussing something of public concern which involves an individual’s constitutional rights being trampled is reason to ask the ALJ for further damages against them? (Of course, the Kleins did not “deride” anyone — that’s the State’s characterization).
More importantly, the ALJ proceeded to find that “the record contains limited evidence of any events involving [the Kleins] in the media or social media that publicized the cake refusal.”
After reviewing all the allegations of harm supposedly perpetrated by the Kleins, the ALJ concluded that emotional damages related to media and social media attention are not legally recoverable anyway.
However, he then recommended awarding $60,000 and $75,000 to the two aggrieved parties, respectively, based on a summary statement of the legal standard with virtually no analysis:
In addition to the State of Oregon’s obvious bias here, let us not forgot — neither the State nor the ALJ have recognized the fact that the Kleins have faced unprecedented antagonism for merely holding to their beliefs. It seems the no one wants to take responsibility for that. Moreover, the Oregon legal system does not seem interested in considering the substantial harm to the Kleins in its quest for “justice” — thus, there is no justice at all here.
We can only hope that the Kleins achieve justice at some point. Until then, what does this case mean for religious liberty more broadly?
As marriage is being redefined, and governments begin to tell individuals what (in their view) marriage is, individuals will (respectfully) disagree. Many believe marriage is instituted by God and no one can change that. And they will not be forced to violate their consciences by acting against those beliefs.
If we are to alleviate at all the threats to religious liberty going forward, legislative protections for those who dissent from the State’s view of marriage must be enacted. The American public overwhelmingly supports this idea. Recent nation-wide polling tells us that 81% of Americans believe government should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses.
In the United States, we have long had to live with differences of view among a diverse population. This has not been controversial in the past, and it should not be controversial today.
If you’d like to help the Kleins cover the cost of their forthcoming fines, or otherwise support them, please visit here.