The Truth about the Sweet Cakes Bakery Gag Order

The Truth about the Sweet Cakes Bakery Gag Order July 10, 2015

I wrote yesterday about Sweet Cakes by Melissa, the Oregon bakery ordered to pay $135,000 in damages to a lesbian couple to whom they refused service. One thing I didn’t touch on, however, was the so-called “gag order,” which was also included in the final order issued by the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). Here is how Todd Starnes wrote about it in an opinion piece for Fox News:

On Friday the state ordered owners Aaron and Melissa Klein to pay $135,000 in damages to a lesbian couple they turned away in 2013.

The state also slapped a gag order on the evangelical Christian bakers – banning them from speaking publicly about their refusal to participate in or bake wedding cakes for same-sex unions.

“This effectively strips us of all our First Amendment rights,” Mrs. Klein wrote on Facebook. “According to the state of Oregon, we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech.”

Later in the piece, Todd Starnes adds this:

On a side note here – I predicted that once gay marriage was legalized, LGBTQIA supporters would attempt to silence all dissent.

That is not in fact what is happening.

Contrary to Melissa Klein’s claims, the ruling is not about her freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Instead, it has to do with whether or not the Kleins can run a business that refuses service to based on sexual orientation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned public accommodations (i.e. businesses) from denying service based on race, color, religion, or national origin. In Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. (1964), the Supreme Court ruled that public accommodations do not have the right to select their customers free from government regulation. In recent years, a number of states have banned business from denying service based on sexual orientation. 

The Kleins found themselves in legal trouble because in Oregon, it is against the law for a business to deny service to an individual based on their sexual orientation, not because they believe homosexuality is a sin.

But wait! Didn’t Starnes say there was a gag order? Isn’t telling the Kleins they can’t talk about their beliefs a violation of their freedom of speech? Isn’t that separate from the issue of denying service to same-sex couples? No, actually, because the judge did not in fact bar the Kleins from talking about their beliefs, he only barred them from advertising that their bakery will not serve gay couples. Because, as we know, refusing service based on sexual orientation is against Oregon law.

Here is the text of the order:

NOW, THEREFORE, as authorized by ORS 659A.403(4), and to further eliminate the effect of the violation of ORS 659A.403 by Respondent Aaron Klein, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries hereby orders Respondents Aaron Klein and Melissa Klein to cease and desist from denying the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of Sweetcakes by Melissa to any person based on that person’s sexual orientation.

NOW, THEREFORE, as authorized by ORS 659A.850(4), and to further eliminate the effect of the violations of ORS 659.A409 by Respondents Aaron Klein and Melissa Klein, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries hereby orders Respondents Aaron Klein and Melissa Klein to cease and desist from publishing, circulating, issuing or displaying, or causing to be published, circulated, issued or displayed, any communication, notice, advertisement or sign of any kind to the effect that any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, services or privileges of a place of public accommodation will be refused, withheld from or denied to, or that any discrimination will be made against, any person on account of sexual orientation.

This is not about the Kleins’ freedom of speech. Rather, this order is akin to barring a white supremacist baker from putting a “No Blacks Allowed” sign in his store window and telling people his bakery doesn’t serve African Americans. The Kleins are free to talk about how sinful and wrong homosexuality is all they want. They are free to post on their Facebook pages about their beliefs, and to go on national media and condemn gay people. They will not be arrested or fined for doing any of these things. They are not, however, allowed to put a “we don’t sell wedding cakes to gays” sign in their store window, because such discrimination is illegal.

I understand that some people don’t think sexual orientation should be included in nondiscrimination laws, and that others don’t think the government should regulate who public businesses serve to begin with. I get that. What I don’t get is the need to lie or mislead the public about what is actually going on in this case. Rightwing media sources seem intent on scaring evangelical Christians with claims that the government is primed to go about fining and jailing people for believing that homosexuality is a sin.  I have had to talk down evangelical Facebook friends from a place of intense fear. This isn’t doing anyone any good.

There is no huge “gay plan” for the suppression of dissent and the jailing of evangelical Christians. We don’t put people in jail for believing that African Americans are intellectually or culturally inferior to white Americans, or for believing that Jews control the world’s financial markets, or for believing that women are bound by God to obey their husbands. We don’t even put people in jail for arguing that slavery was a time of “racial harmony” or denying the Holocaust. The belief that homosexuality is sin may be increasingly unpopular, but it isn’t on the brink of being outlawed.

Can we please all stop being scared now?

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