A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Cakes case: What happened to tolerance?

Written April 25th, 2015 by Hasso Hering
Like the sun on a mid-valley evening,  tolerance for other beliefs and acting on them is going  down in Oregon.

Like the sun on a mid-valley evening, tolerance for acting on one’s beliefs is going down in Oregon.

How about a little tolerance for a change? How about leaving room for citizens acting on their beliefs even if they are out of step? None of that is evident in the heavy-handed way the state of Oregon is coming down on the couple who could not bring themselves to furnish a wedding cake for a lesbian wedding.

An administrative law judge for the Bureau of Labor and Industries has recommended the two proprietors of Sweet Cakes by Melissa,  Aaron and Melissa Klein, must pay the unhappy couple $135,000 for their suffering, mental and otherwise, after the shop would not plan, design, construct and deliver a cake to their nuptial event. That’s a crushing penalty, out of proportion to what happened, even if a fundraising campaign on the bakers’ behalf raises much of the money.

Despite what BOLI and  Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian assert, this was not a case of some grave injustice the way most reasonable people understand the term. Aaron Klein, who had the misfortune of dealing with these would-be customers in 2013, was not rude and did not refuse to talk with them. When he learned the cake should have two women’s names on it, he said he was sorry but the shop could not participate in a same-sex wedding because of his and his wife’s faith in what the Bible says about that.

The normal thing for the would-be bride and her mother, who came to the shop with her, would have been to say, “Sorry you feel that way, you misguided man,” and go to some other place to buy the cake. Instead she and her partner waited a few months, presumably stewing, and then filed a complaint with the state.

Even if the the administrative official is upheld on the law, $135,000 for not baking a wedding cake? Not even bank robbers get hit with fines that big.

The implications of this case go far beyond cakes, and they should worry anybody who cares about individual liberty. Let’s all agree that it’s wrong to discriminate in public life and business on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and various other things. But what about special circumstances?

Suppose you can sing and hire out for special events. Can you turn down the offer of a gig when a Muslim marries his third wife, on the grounds that you don’t do Muslim weddings? Or would that violate Oregon law? (Don’t object that polygamy is illegal. That would be irrelevant; same-sex marriages were illegal in Oregon too when the Sweet Cakes case began.)

The talk about gay rights and later same-sex unions used to be all about tolerance. That was long ago. Now it’s all about compulsion by a powerful state that doesn’t have to worry about its own legal bills but can kill its targets with theirs. The labor commissioner is demonstrating the state’s crushing power in this case by destroying a small business and a man and his wife whose religion would not let them do what was asked. (hh)

35 responses to “Cakes case: What happened to tolerance?”

  1. James Carrick says:

    Liberals profess tolerance as they demonstrate little. Consistently.

    Not much more to say….:-)

    • Peggy Richner says:

      What if a family of Muslims walks into a bakery to order a very special cake to celebrate a very special event. What if they want a cake with an image of the Twin Trade Towers with an airplane flying into the side emitting flames.

      If the baker is highly offended by this request and refuses, would BOLI or whoever stand up for them, and perhaps fine the bakery $135,000 for its refusal? Just wondering.

      I promise not to write anything more on this subject.

  2. Richard says:

    “Let’s all agree that it’s wrong to discriminate in public life and business on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and various other things.”

    Yes, and no. I agree that it’s “wrong,” but in a free society, people are not required to live their lives so as to satisfy the goals of others. They are free to do whatever they please as long as they are not doing actual, demonstrable harm to others. Refusing to serve someone, may be stupid and “wrong” in the minds of most fair-minded people, but it is not a legitimate matter for government intervention. We no longer live in a free society.

    This is a matter of great concern to me because it so clearly illustrates the divide between statists and lovers of liberty. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single presidential hopeful (not even Rand Paul) who has the guts to say what I just said, even though my words state the absolute truth. Our society is very, very sick.

    • Peggy Richner says:

      Well said, Richard. Thank you for being in favor of freedom of association, i.e. liberty, which I note so many Americans today don’t seem to understand.

    • Gary Richards says:

      Ah the Freedom of association argument – it only works when discrimination against another is NOT involved! Sure, freedom to associate is great. – but…

      The definition of “Freedom of Association” is as follows (link below): “Freedom of association is the right to join or leave groups of a person’s own choosing, and for the group to take collective action to pursue the interests of members.”

      F/A dose not give any individual any right whatsoever to discriminate, this regardless of the level of discrimination or action taken. Sure, the Libertarian definition of F/A affords such actions against individuals, but that is a made-up definition whose only intent is to justify the goal of the one who penned the altered meaning. It is a rewrite of reality by one who believes in revisionist theory and offers it as fact.

      And would a Kosher Deli offer a ham sandwich, this since pork is seen as “unclean” by that community.

      And the Westboro Baptist Church would NEVER hire a “black” caterer for one of their events – for starters the WBC is too evil, not to mention narrow minded.


  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Will BOLI fine a kosher deli if it refuses to serve a customer a ham sandwich?

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      If said sandwhich was on the menu – BOLI should…

    • Bob Woods says:

      Only if it’s on the menu, not sold out, and the refusal is discriminatory. That’s pretty obvious.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      It would presumably depend on the traits of the customer and on the grounds on which the sandwich order was refused. Was it refused on the grounds of the customer’s religion, race, national origin. etc? If the shopkeeper said. “We don’t serve ham eaters here, get out” there would be no violation because ham eaters are not a protected class. (hh)

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        “We don’t serve ham eaters here, get out” there would be no violation because ham eaters are not a protected class.”

        True – as you state it. However, original presumption was that the ham sandwich was, in fact, on the menu…

        • Hasso Hering says:

          Doesn’t matter whether it’s on the menu. The crux is whether there is any discrimination against the customer based on any of the protected categories. The deli owner could say, “Well, yes, we have ham, but I don’t like customers taller than me, and you look to be about 6-4, so I won’t sell you a ham sandwich.” Being tall is not a disability, so the shopkeeper, while irrational, is not committing a violation of Oregon law. Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on hh-today.com. (hh)

          • Gordon L. Shadle says:

            I agree, what is on the menu is irrelevant. Not sure what legal logic Ray and Bob were using with that one.

            But your question is relevant, “Was it refused on the grounds of the customer’s religion, race, national origin. etc?”

            Question for the hh-today lawyer – If the owner of the deli had knowledge that the customer is not a follower of Judaism (presumably, ordering a ham sandwich in a kosher deli would be enough evidence), would that fact provide a legal basis for BOLI to rule against the deli owner for religious discrimination?

            Payment for your legal advise is in the mail….

          • Gordon L. Shadle says:

            Would BOLI force a black-owned business to cater an event at the Westboro Baptist Church (Oregon assembly)?

  4. Ray Kopczynski says:

    “Let’s all agree that it’s wrong to discriminate in public life and business on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and various other things. But what about special circumstances?”

    Can you be “just a little bit pregnant?” It’s a very slippery slope with “special circumstances…”

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Sure is. Slippery, that is. But not all discrimination is the same. Refusing to rent, on the grounds of race, the last available motel room to a couple with a little child stranded in your town by a winter storm is one kind of discrimination. Politely turning down the opportunity to spend a week designing and building a $1,000 cake so an affluent couple can celebrate their wedding in style — turning it down on the grounds of personal objections to weddings of that kind, when there are innumerable other sources of cake — is not really in the same class. Is it? (hh)

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        If a product/service is publicly stated for all (on a “menu” or whatever) — and then you are the object of discrimination, by law, you can be remedied in court. To what degree the becomes, therein lies the question. In this (and many other cases), I believe the public flagellation is more than sufficient, subject to the business[s] ceasing the same discrimination going forward.

      • Richard says:

        I would concede that there is a difference. However, I would argue that the law should simply disallow businesses from advertising services over a wide area as though they take all customers when in reality they exclude certain broad “classes.” This would be on the basis that this is a form of misrepresentation and/or negligence. The law should not require businesses to serve a particular class of customers under all circumstances.

        We should not behave as though we own our fellow citizens, no matter how much we may dislike their discriminatory practices. As soon as we assert this ability to take ownership, we are asserting that we can control any and all of their activities just as we please. This is what is taking place in our society today. We are split into factions that are each trying to exercise control over other factions. We behave as though we believe that the ability to achieve control is all that is needed to justify this control.

      • Peggy Richner says:

        Discrimination on the basis of, well, anything, may be immoral, but certainly should not have any laws about it either for or against, and that includes your example of the motel room, the small child, and the winter storm. The only decision maker in any instance of discrimination should be the rightful property owner.

  5. Jim Engel says:

    If an arm of our government can fine a person for not wanting to provide a product could that same arm fine us for not participating? Like, you attend their meeting or be fined. You must adhere to their beliefs or be fined. You must do this or that or be fined. Yes, my reasoning seems silly & off base. Trouble is as we slide towards a liberal slope it would only take a simple liberal majority (now exists in Salem) to pass a law. Take note of what’s being cranked from there now & there is a possibility. JE

  6. Bill Kapaun says:

    Anybody know of a kosher deli that sells ham?

  7. Bill Kapaun says:

    A $135,000 fine for not wanting to make a cake is beyond cruel and unusual punishment.
    People get maimed in car wrecks and receive less.
    Hopefully, the “bakers” can sue the state and win $1,000,000!

    In hindsight, they could have simply made a “traditional” cake, claimed there was a misunderstanding and forfeited the cost of the cake.

  8. Warren Beeson says:

    The First Amendment affirms our natural right to the freedom to have and practice our religious beliefs. In this case the government appears to only be concerned with the rights of the plaintiff. Where are the rights of the defendant? In a case like this where rights clash, which takes precedence? One logical way to balance those would be to ask the question of, who is harmed and to what degree. One would think there would be numerous options for obtaining a wedding cake with no harm done. On the other hand, the baker is being hounded by the state to violate their basic religious principles. It is clear where the greater harm lies and thus where justice lies.

    • James Carrick says:

      Very good points Warren. As you say, it’s not like this couple didn’t have other options. This isn’t the power or phone company we’re talking about, or some other ESSENTIAL service. Why didn’t this couple simply go elsewhere…to a bakery more sympathetic to their wants? Perhaps they smelled money in raising the hell they did. Someone still needs to tell me how this couple was “harmed?”

      Personally, I would never refuse a gay couple services such as the bakery did. As a contractor, I did work for gays and lesbians and thought little about it….happy to be paid for my services. However, I also support the bakery owner’s right to exercise their beliefs according to their own conscience and I don’t think the government…..local, state, or federal…..should have a damned thing to say about it. Essentially, the government is FORCING these people to act against their will. Where does it say that to be in business, you must give up that liberty? As far as I’m concerned, this ruling is unconstitutional.

      And Gordon’s question above: “Would BOLI force a black-owned business to cater an event at the Westboro Baptist Church (Oregon assembly)?” is interesting to say the least and because no one else has yet responded, I will: My instincts tell me the black-owned business would be in violation of the law, and we would never have heard of it…..and that they would not be ruled against and penalized as the bakery owners have been. Why? Because political correctness has gone so far beyond reason that it is INFRINGING on individual liberty, one of the cornerstones of our founding documents. As Warren points out, the First Amendment guarantees freedom OF religion….not freedom FROM religion….as so many liberal wing nuts now claim.

      Finally…….the penalty handed down is ridiculous. If I were the administrative judge in this case, the penalty would never have exceeded the value of the services denied. What does it cost to have a big fancy wedding cake made and delivered? $135,000 is a LOT of them. This is a case of government over reach in the penalty, if not the law itself. CLEARLY. Is this what liberals want? If so…………

      I guess the “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” signs seen everywhere now need an accompanying list of conditions….or to be taken down entirely.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        “Why didn’t this couple simply go elsewhere…to a bakery more sympathetic to their wants?”

        My understanding is these folks had been customers of the bakery prior — and never had an issue until they asked for the wedding cake. Only then did the bakery discriminate. I do agree the fine was/is excessive. And – you are correct; those very antiquated “We reserve the right…” signs aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on…

        • James Carrick says:

          “My understanding is these folks had been customers of the bakery prior — and never had an issue until they asked for the wedding cake.”

          Precisely Ray, and the bakery owners may not have had a problem with their sexual orientation, only the “same sex marriage” part. As is their right I would say. This law is an over-reach.

          We don’t have to “buy in” to everything government throws at us…or decides is now acceptable. The bakery owners have rights (and presumably liberties) also. What about them?

          • James Carrick says:

            Hasso, perhaps you can paste (add) this below my last comment….please:

            Merely serving customers at the bakery is one thing. Being asked to provide a wedding cake for a (then illegal) same sex “marriage” is another matter in that it requires a level of PARTICIPATION that made the bakery owners uncomfortable for their own legitimate reasons. THAT, my friend is the difference.

            And nobody has yet been able to tell us just exactly how this couple was “harmed?” After HOW MANY MONTHS before filing their claim?

  9. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Well, that “dlifference” IS the crux of the matter. To me it is patently obvious the owners crossed the line and should have some penalty. $135K is totally absurd though…

    • James Carrick says:

      So, you are saying that the bakery owners should be forced to PARTICIPATE in what was (at the time) an illegal event as well as one that even if legal, was morally objectionable to them? That goes far beyond simply serving everyday customers that walk into a place of business. In doing so you deny the bakery owners THEIR constitutional guarantee to freely express their own religious belief, as if the gay view trumps all?

      If so then I strongly disagree. What’s next…the government compelling “straight” people to march in gay pride parades because some members of the LGBT community asked them to? And again, where is it written that to be in business you must forfeit your own moral standards?

      Ray, if you were in my ward….such a view would compel me to vote for ANYONE else in the hope that a candidate that values individual liberty more highly was available.

      Care to now tell us how this couple was harmed?

  10. Gary Richards says:

    Funny thing is that the owners in question are more than willing to take money from this couple for anything BUT a wedding cake. I mean, if their biblical views were so staunch then they would have a questioner pertaining to their sexual orientation ready for every customer to fill BEFORE they would sell them a single cupcake much the less a wedding cake.

    How about having every business with such religious views openly and clearly post that they do not cater to the gay community – that way then never serve (or take the money from this population) and have standing to present in their defense. Of course, any such business that opposes gay marriage would never put such a sign up even if it provided a legal defense to them, this since they would lose way too much money by making such a profession. After all, such an action would not only offend the gay community but also those who support those members.

    They would go broke in a heartbeat.

    And any such crazy financial penalty will be appealed and reduced, as was the done so in the McDonalds “hot coffee” case. The last of this absurdity has not been heard!

    • James Carrick says:

      Your first paragraph makes assumptions. How do you know exactly how the bakery owners feel? You assume because they object to PARTICIPATING in a wedding (through planning, baking, decorating, and delivering a cake) they should also object to them walking in occasionally and buying items from their counter, already prepared? Not sure you should make that assumption. You also suggest it is the taking of money that should be the determining factor. I am saying the two examples are different in that one of them requires PARTICIPATION while the other does not. Perhaps you aren’t able to make that distinction….or think it’s not relevant. I think it IS relevant. If not it SHOULD BE.

      What happened to freedom of association…or the liberty to NOT associate? I know. It doesn’t fit into the “collective” thought process. Lenin and Stalin would approve of such a “collective mindset.” There are people I have absolutely no interest in associating with for hundreds of reasons. The government has no right to compel me to do so. In business or not. PERIOD!

      You also seem sure this penalty will be reduced. What makes you think so? Your McDonald’s comparison is apples to oranges. McDonalds involved a law suit. This one involved a BOLI complaint. Either way, the only real winners here are the attorneys.

      At least the bakery shop owners will have this outlandish fine paid for by the MANY sympathetic to their liberties. I have contributed to that fund myself and urge others to do so as well. Government over reach must not be allowed.

      The list of things we can do is getting shorter than the list of things we can’t do. Butt out, government and quit telling me how I MUST live my life. Talk about lack of tolerance……the left is as guilty as any of us. I would say more so.

  11. James Carrick says:

    Here’s a parallel example. I was a building contractor. I did work for gays and lesbians as I noted above. Let’s say one of those lesbian couples I’d done work for later came to me to ask if I would build them a gazebo in their back yard for their wedding.

    That would require participation in something (same sex marriage, and let’s not forget that at the time, such marriages were ILLEGAL). I personally don’t believe in, nor wish to participate in. Would I tell them that? Nope. To save myself from a $135,000 fine I would simply tell them my schedule is full and that I can’t meet their need according to their schedule and recommend a respected competitor.

    I really don’t give a rip about what two consenting adults do with their lives as long as it doesn’t involve me…or REQUIRE my involvement. That’s where I draw the line.


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