Supreme Court sends case against Christian bakers who refused same-sex wedding cake back to state courts

Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, are contesting the ruling made by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which found them guilty of discrimination and ordered them to pay a fine of 5,000.(First Liberty Institute)

The US Supreme Court has told the Oregon courts to reconsider the case of a Christian couple sued over their refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake.

Aaron and Melissa Klein closed down their bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, after a woman filed a discrimination complaint when they refused her request in 2013 to make a custom cake for a same-sex ceremony with her female partner. 

The couple defended their decision on the grounds that same-sex relations went against their Christian beliefs. 

Oregon's Board of Labor and Industries concluded that the Kleins had violated state laws making it illegal for businesses to discriminate against customers on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The Kleins were ordered to pay a $135,000 fine, a decision that was later upheld by the state courts.

The Kleins have continued to challenge the state-level rulings against them on the grounds that their actions are protected by free speech provisions in the First Amendment.  They argue that being required by law to make a same-sex wedding cake forces them against their will to express a view that they do not share. 

After months of deliberation, the Supreme Court said on Monday that it would not hear the case and has sent it back to the Oregon courts for reconsideration in light of the ruling last year in favour of a Christian baker in Colorado, Jack Phillips, who was also sued after refusing to make a same-sex wedding cake. 

The Supreme Court's ruling was specific to Phillips' case and it refused to come down on whether religious owners of businesses in general could refuse to provide services or goods for customers on the basis of their sexual orientation. 

The state of Oregon has argued that "baking is conduct, not speech" and therefore not entitled to protection under the First Amendment. 

In its arguments, the state has claimed that all customers should be treated equally by businesses and in doing so, they are not being compelled to support gay marriage "any more than the law compels support for religion by requiring equal treatment for all faiths".

"A bakery open to the public has no right to discriminate against customers on the basis of their sexual orientation," it has stated. 

Kelly Shackelford, CEO of First Liberty Institute, which has been assisting the Kleins in the case, has previously said that the couple's free speech, including in the area of their business, should be protected.

"Freedom of speech has always included the freedom not to speak the government's message," Shackelford said. "This case can clarify whether speech is truly free if it is government mandated."