In it’s way, the story of Melissa and Aaron Klein – owners of Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa – is even more disturbing than the well-publicized plight of Kim Davis. The Kleins refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple in 2013, setting the Christians on a path that ended Monday when they paid $136,927 in damages to the plaintiffs – Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer.
For supporters of the LGBT cause, this was an open-and-shut case from the beginning. To hear them tell it, this was an obvious example of discrimination against members of a protected class. They won’t admit there is any difference between refusing to bake a gay wedding cake and refusing to bake a cake for a gay customer. In fact, they cannot admit that difference because to do so would make this case less about religious freedom and more about freedom of speech.
Though these concepts are bundled together in the First Amendment, they are not completely inseparable. Speech is protected as long as it does not present a clear and present danger. Religion is protected when it does not substantially burden the state. That’s a much lower standard, and it’s why liberals want to keep these debates firmly in the realm of religious freedom. And because Christians are on the front lines of this controversy, they tend to get exactly what they want.
Make no mistake, this case is about both. But to limit the discussion to religious freedom misses the true scope of what’s happening in America right now. We tend to view the concept of free speech through the lens of censorship, always on guard against a government that might seek to suppress unpopular sentiment. But it’s just as much a violation when the government blasts you with a six-figure judgment for refusing to say something you didn’t want to say. And baking a gay wedding cake unquestionably “says” something. If newspapers can refuse to print climate change skepticism, how are bakers forbidden the same editorial privilege?
Because, they say, gays are a protected group and skeptics aren’t.
That’s irrelevant. This is not a case of discrimination. There is no evidence – nor even any accusation – that the Kleins refused service to customers after learning of their sexual orientation. This is about a cake. Until liberals find a way to add confections to their growing list of protected Americans, this ruling will remain a travesty.