On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated a decision regarding a 2013 case of a Christian couple in Oregon who owned a bakery and refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
The matter was taken to a state agency who fined the bakery owners $135,000. It was said that the owners illegally discriminated based on sexual orientation. An Oregon appeals court upheld the ruling.
This is similar to a case which SCOTUS ruled on last year. Jack Phillips is a Christian baker who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. He was taken to a state administrative commission who ruled against him. SCOTUS ruled 7-2 in favor of Phillips that Colorado agencies had shown an unfair bias against the religious convictions of Phillips.
The bakery owners (Aaron and Melissa Klein) appealed their case to the Supreme Court. After sitting on the issue, today the court finally sent the ruling back to Oregon. In light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling from last June, the court has vacated the previous ruling and is having Oregon courts evaluate the case again.
When SCOTUS ruled in favor of Phillips, it was widely referred to as a “narrow ruling.” What this meant was that the ruling largely revolved around unfair treatment of Phillips by the Colorado authorities. It did not touch on roader issues of discrimination and first amendment rights regarding the exercise of religion.
This makes the vacated challenge interesting because SCOTUS has specifically told the Oregon courts to use their ruling in Masterpiece as a precedent for ruling in the Klein’s case as well.
It’s unfortunate that business owners continue to face crippling lawsuits for refusing to do something that goes against their religious convictions, essentially forcing them to use their creative talents to contribute to a same-sex wedding.
I do wish the courts would issue a broader ruling on this issue. Because legitimate businesses are getting bogged down in years-long legal battles over these issues.
Given the narrow ruling with the Masterpiece decision, it will be interesting to see how the Oregon courts approach their ruling. Given the narrow ruling of Masterpiece, it’s possible that Oregon will rule on similar grounds and find that the Oregon authorities also showed unfair bias against the religious values of the Kleins.
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Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.