Right Opinion

Bakers' Case Gives Rise to Bias

Tony Perkins · Jun. 2, 2015

After months of stress, Oregon’s young bakers are turning up the heat on someone else: state officials. Aaron and Melissa Klein, who became the face of America’s religious liberty debate when they turned down a cake order for a same-sex wedding, have spent the last two years trying to make ends meet after losing their business. Staring down a $135,000 fine for exercising their beliefs, the couple is doing everything they can to hold their life together for their five kids.

Now, thanks to emails uncovered by the Daily Signal, the Kleins might finally have the break they’ve been waiting for. It turns out that there is prejudice in Aaron and Melissa’s case — but not from the Kleins. While the state was busy accusing Aaron and Melissa of bias, emails suggest their agencies were full of it. In emails, text messages, phone calls, and other documents, Daily Signal found a shocking amount of coordination between the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and the largest LGBT activist group in the state: Basic Rights Oregon (BRO).

In particular, Commissioner Brad Avakian, who oversaw the Kleins’ case and their subsequent $135,000 punishment, held a string of closed door meetings with BRO leading up to Sweet Cakes’s judgment. “That’s a clear conflict of interest,” fumed Hans von Spakovsky, the Heritage Foundation’s Senior Legal Fellow. In fact, there was so much communication between the two entities that the brother of one of the plaintiffs actually mentioned it at the February hearing. That raised the eyebrows of several people — including the Kleins’ attorney, Anna Harmon.

There were already plenty of concerns about the commissioner, who was an open ally of LGBT activists in Oregon — going so far as to buy tickets to gay pride events, galas, and other fundraisers. Then, when the Kleins’ story broke in 2013, Avakian blasted the couple in a Facebook post — before ever seeing any evidence! From the very beginning, Aaron and Melissa were guilty until proven innocent. Concerned that her clients weren’t getting a fair shake, Harmon asked for an investigation. Her request was denied.

“Any such collusion would show that the decision maker in this case was not neutral, and the State of Oregon would have violated the Kleins’ fundamental constitutional right to due process of law,” she protested. “We have a right to know what went on, and we’re asking the ALJ [administrative law judge] to allow us to find out.” Thanks to the Heritage Foundation, some of those records are finally public. And while the Bureau insists it’s “committed to fair enforcement” of the state’s anti-discrimination policy, emails show that it’s anything but. BRO was given exclusive access to the government’s media strategies, heads-up on breaking news on the case, in-person meetings about Sweet Cakes’s case, and even behind-the-scenes talking points. (To read some of the exchanges, click over to the Daily Signal.)

At one point, the LGBT group flagged just how important Commissioner Avakian’s position on Sweet Cakes would be to the broader movement. “His voice is really important as a coalition partner,” wrote one employee. Unfortunately, the roots of the relationship run deep. The LGBT organization donated $8,000 to Avakian’s election — and their investment is certainly paying off. Among other things, Commissioner Avakian hand-picked the administrative judge who handed down the $135,000 punishment and, not so ironically, will be the one responsible for certifying that punishment this month.

It’s not enough that the Kleins have suffered personally and professionally. Now their fate is in the hands of a man who cares more about his agenda than adjudication.

Now in Right Field: Rick Santorum

Late last week, a familiar face officially jumped off the starting block in a race he knows well. Senator Rick Santorum, the runner-up to Mitt Romney in the 2012 GOP nomination, is taking a second crack at the White House after a solid finish three years ago. The longtime social conservative carried 11 states in 2012, giving him a good foothold in a field that could have more than a dozen candidates before summer’s end. When Fox News hosts the first debate on August 6, the stage will be a crowded one.

But that doesn’t faze Rick. “In January of 2012, I was at 4% in the national polls, and I won the Iowa caucuses,” he said to naysayers. With a hometown crowd cheering him on, the Senator told Pennsylvanians: “Today is the day we begin to fight back.” Although most of his speech focused on broader themes of the American worker and “the excesses and indifference of big labor, big government… and big business,” Santorum did hit the right notes on values issues. “Every life matters: the poor, the disabled, and the unborn,” he insisted, before asking Americans to help him “drive a stake through the heart of Common Core.”

During his time in the Senate, Santorum also made a name for himself with foreign policy — a record that will do plenty to boost his profile these days. While Senator Santorum didn’t tackle the issue of marriage in his opening act, he’s been a staunch advocate for the institution — never backing down, even when many in his party tuck tail and run. In an interview over the weekend, Rick was asked about the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling and what the GOP should do if it doesn’t go their way. “I think it’s important to understand that the Supreme Court doesn’t have the final word,” he pointed out. “It has its word. Its word has validity. But it’s important for Congress and the President, frankly, to push back when the Supreme Court gets it wrong.”

Would he fight a bad decision, “Meet the Press” followed up? “Of course I’d fight it. Roe v. Wade was decided [years ago], and I continue to fight it because the court got it wrong. And I think if the Court decides this case in error, I will continue to fight, as I have on the issue of life. That’s the role of a citizenry. We’re not bound by what nine people say in perpetuity.”

Judge Keeps Religious Liberty on Tract!

When Michael Leal shared the Gospel at school, he witnessed something else: intolerance! The Cascade High School senior was known for handing out tracts during lunch — and just as known for being suspended for it. Three times, the principal has sent him home, and three times, the high schooler refused to back down. “Whenever I hand out gospel tracts or share the message in any way, it’d be before school, after school, or during lunch. [I] never interrupted classrooms at all,” Leal explained. “… [F]or them to stop me from handing out things that they say could offend people, I find that kind of unfair.” (Watch his story here.)

Under the Everett High School policy, kids could only distribute things they had written themselves or written by fellow students. Brad Dacus, one of the Pacific Justice Institute attorneys representing Michael, said, “He could not even pass out copies of the Constitution, if he wanted to. That’s how rigid and restrictive this school’s policies are regarding speech.” Fortunately for Michael-and the First Amendment — Judge Thomas Zilly agreed that students “don’t lose their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door.”

As part of the ruling, Michael’s suspensions have been wiped from his record, which PJI thinks is a fitting graduation present. When people stand up for religious liberty — like Michael did with PJI — they win! For more examples of people living out their faith no matter what the cost, check out FRC’s Free to Believe website and read the stories for yourself.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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