Sunday, April 26, 2015

Whose Rights Are More Important Anyway?

It seems as though another bakery is under fire for its decision not to bake a same-sex couple's wedding cake, according to this article.  Aaron and Melissa Klein are the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a small bakery located in a strip-mall in Gresham, Oregon.  Back in January of 2013, Aaron Klein declined to have Sweet Cakes by Melissa (which would include the involvement of the owners themselves) bake the cake for Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer's special day because the action conflicted with he and his wife's Christian values and the religion's definition of marriage.  The two women, now married, filed a claim with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying that this denial of service was illegal under the state's public accommodation law, which prohibits someone to discriminate against another person based on his or her sexual orientation when providing a service.  The Oregon law can be viewed in its entirety here.

Now this seems to be an open-and-shut case, but when getting into the finer details, we can see that it starts to get a little more dicey.  Let's get into those said details.  As a result of Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer's complaint, the Bureau of Labor and Industries completed an investigation and found the Klein's guilty of violating the state's public accommodation law because they denied the women full access of their bakery, which is considered a public business, and did so based on discrimination against sexual orientation.  Due to this result, the Bureau proposed a fine against Aaron and Melissa Klein in the amount of $135,000.

What is particularly interesting is how the amount of the fine was decided.  Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer submitted two lists (one in regards to each individual) to the Bureau of the supposed physical, mental, and emotional damages that they experienced as a result of the Klein's denial to bake their wedding cake.  In these lists were included things like 'impaired digestion,' 'pale[ness] and sick[ness] at home after work,' 'resumption of smoking habit,' and 'weight gain'.  The Bureau then decided that $75,000 for one list and $60,000 for the other would be fair compensation for the 178 said "damages," which then makes the total fine $135,000.

In September of 2013, Aaron and Melissa Klein were forced to shut down the bakery--their only source of income--due to the allegations and the outcries and backlash from the Gresham community.  The Klein's are also the parents of five children and the outrageous amount of the fine is enough to bankrupt the family of seven.  Anna Harmon, who is the Klein's attorney, importantly points out that fine will not be paid by 'liquidating business assets' since they no longer own the business, but will have to come from their life savings and their shallow pockets instead.  Ms. Harmon also brings to light the fact that during the initial hearing, there were no expert witnesses to validate the existence of any of the claimed damages, so we have no way of knowing if they are actually true or just fabricated.  These details bring this case into a whole different ball game.

Aaron Klein believes that the state is charging this much as an attack on their personal livelihood because the Klein's views differ from those of the state.  He even made the statement that he believes that the state is trying to "obliterate" his family.  The proposed fine will now go to Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who will decided whether to accept the fine or adjust it in a final order.

The effects of this case are, in my opinion, bigger than we think.  I do agree that what the Klein's did was wrong in that they broke the law, but I think they should have received an exemption for this.  I also think that we have to consider the more broad implications: if the Klein's are forced to pay this fine, they will go bankrupt and could quite possibly lose everything that they have left.  The fine does not need to be so much, especially since there was not an expert witness to validate the "damages" that Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer "have experienced".  No one should have to choose between being religious (namely their rights to free exercise) and running a business, which is exactly what has happened to the Klein's here.  This case obviously reminds me of the other cases we have come across that involved bakers and same-sex couples, but I think that the stakes are definitely higher in this case.  I would say that Oregon, just like any other state, has a compelling state interest to eradicate discrimination, but I would say that it also has a compelling state interest to protect the economic well-being of its citizens.

So what do you guys think? Should the Klein's have to pay this outrageously high fine, or should they receive an exemption to protect their free exercise rights under the Constitution?


Ana M. said...

Personally, I believe that this business should have the right to deny service to whomever they choose if it goes against their religious beliefs. The owners of this business are personally creating and making the products they sell. In this case the state has burdened the owners’ religious beliefs by imposing fines. Although, I also believe that there are humans rights that should be respected, this family is being wrongfully punished by the state for having religious beliefs.

Alex L. said...

I also agree that this family deserves an exemption. Regardless of if exemptions are offered or not-the fine issued is ridiculous. I understand the value in punishing those who break the law but in this case this small family owned business is being made an example of. While I am sympathetic to the same-sex couple that could not get the cake from the bakery -I simply do not buy the $135,000 in emotional damages that causes weight gain and smoking cigarettes again. I feel this is an example of people taking advantage of the legal system.

Emily C. said...

I agree that these business owners should have received an exemption, and I, like Alex, believe that the fine is egregious. I would hope that the legal process would reveal the absurdity of the compensation requests. I do not think that a business should have to close because they are unable to pay the fine that resulted from practicing their religion freely. I do, however, think that Sweet Cakes should not have been protected from closing their bakery. The backlash they faced illustrates the popular opinion in the community, therefore if the actions of the owners are contrary to public opinion the business will not be very successful. It is the prerogative of the owners to act according to their religion, but it does not protect them from unhappy customers.

Trevor T said...

When the product is something that is involved or an expression of art which can be thought to be a reflection of ones talents and beliefs, then i believe it is constitutional to deny service if something goes against your personal beliefs because the process is something your pour yourself into and invest yourself in it at a more intimate level than for example a mechanic who won't fix a car simply because the couple is homesexual. The owners in the case should not be required to pay any fine.

Abraham Baldwin said...

If there is any witness of what happened in the bakery then owner should be charged. From your post I find that there is no witness of this incidence so how can they be charged such a heavy amount of $1,35,000. I agree with Alex that sometime people do take advantage of legal system which is wrong and against human right. For more legal consultation Scott Brook can help you out.