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Sweet Cakes By Melissa

September 19, 2022 Frontpage No Comments

By DEACON MIKE MANNO

It seems, sometimes, that we have entered into a permanent crazy season that keeps getting worse and worse. And the hallmark of that season is the growing cultural chasm that has gripped our nation.
When I studied journalism and first entered that profession the rules were fairly defined: politics was a fairly rough game but it could be played by friendly advisories who, at least, were willing to give a more-or-less grudging respect to their opponents, and while the issues of the day could provoke sharp debate, they were overshadowed by those issues to which all Americans of good faith could agree.
That’s not true today. Somehow society has fostered a growing divide in American life that will take years to patch, if it ever does. And where did this divide originate? Well, my guess is that we won’t find that answer for several decades when a group of clear-minded sociologists (if that’s not an oxymoron) are finally able to explain this bit of our history to our grandchildren … or maybe our great-grandchildren.
So while the final answer evades us at this time, let me offer a theory about what widened the breach to the point we are at and where even our president has no tolerance for disagreement and will roundly condemn those who disagree with him. Of course it happens on the other side, too, but for some reason most of the vitriol seems to come from the president’s side.
Let me venture a guess as to why this is happening. It is because our political disagreements have turned to cultural disagreements which have turned political, and worse, legal.
Let me explain this way: I think the story of Melissa and Aaron Klein is a good representation of what has happened.
The Kleins owned and operated a bakery in Oregon called “Sweet Cakes by Melissa.” She designed and baked custom wedding cakes, among other things, and he delivered them to the appropriate wedding venues at the designated time. They were both devout Christians who believed in the biblical view of that institution: one man and one woman.
In January of 2013 Melissa and Aaron were approached by a same-sex couple, Rachel Cryer and Lauren Bowman, who asked if they could order a wedding cake for their upcoming nuptial. The initial contact was made by Rachel and her mother. When the Kleins explained why they could not do so, Rachel and her mother left. Mom, however, returned later and tried to reason with Aaron, calling this a “teaching moment” since her own belief about marriage, her “truth” about the subject, had changed.
Aaron quoted Scripture back, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination,” which later came back to haunt the case. Four days later Rachel and her mother met with another baker and arranged for a wedding cake.
Despite the fact that the cake was quickly procured at another venue, Rachel filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) claiming that the Kleins violated the state public accommodation law by refusing to bake their cake. The agency, rejecting the Kleins’ First Amendment defenses of Free Speech and Religious Freedom, held against them, and ordered them to stop discriminating, and entered judgment against them for $75,000 and $60,000, respectively, for Rachel and her partner.
The Kleins appealed claiming the agency action was motivated in part by religious bias but the court of appeals rejected their arguments, and confirmed the monetary judgment against them. An appeal to the state supreme court failed when the court refused to hear the case.
An appeal went to the U.S. Supreme Court which vacated the court of appeals judgment and remanded the case back to the state courts to re-consider it in light of its ruling in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Civil Rights Commission, and to make a determination on the Kleins’ claim of religious discrimination and animus by BOLI.
Masterpiece was a Colorado case in which a baker was found to have a protected right to refuse to bake a same-sex wedding cake. We’ll come back to Masterpiece in a moment, but for now that sounded like it should have ended the Kleins’ legal problems.
But that was not to be. The case went back to the Oregon state courts to determine if there had been any religious animus on the part of BOLI. On remand the court of appeals concluded that the only religious animus was citing Aaron’s use of the biblical statement about lying with a man as you would a woman. Once again the state supreme court denied review.
On remand to the agency, BOLI reduced the cash judgment only.
Earlier this month the Kleins filed another appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court in which they hope that the court will issue a definitive ruling in their favor, since the state court and BOLI seem to be unwilling to drop the matter.
Which now brings us back to Masterpiece. Shortly after its victory in the top court, another litigant tried another approach to persecute Masterpiece’s owner, Jack Phillips. This time an individual asked the baker to create a gender transition cake with the colors blue and pink to signify — and celebrate — the client’s sexual transition. Naturally the request was refused and naturally the Colorado civil rights commission found probable cause to open a new investigation against the bakery.
Now what does all this have to do with my thesis at the beginning of this column? It’s simple. You never saw this kind of vengeful legal action when society was only dealing with broken contracts, allegations of financial fraud, or other routine civil matters. But since the nation’s attention has been turned to cultural matters, those issues that cut to the heart of who we are, the lid of civility has come off.
You see this everywhere. In the wedding cases numerous bakers, photographers, printers, florists, and others have been chased and hounded by angry mobs seeking only to punish, and too often local and state officials help promote this conduct, which all too often resulted in the closing of the offending business, such as was done to Sweet Cakes by Melissa.
We now see repeated suits against Catholic hospitals who refuse to allow abortions or gender reassignment surgery to take place on their grounds. Lawyers have faced discipline for refusing to represent certain litigants. Other professionals and tradesmen have been repeatedly attacked when they are only standing up for their God-given rights, rights that before this generation were universally considered sacred.
But that is not how much of society looks at these things anymore. Here the Kleins were not being thought of as being just wrong legally, they were evil oppressors who must be punished. Same with Jack Phillips and all the physicians, and trades people who simply refuse to do something against their conscience.
We are no longer dealing with rational people who are seeking to expand what they believe are their rights. We are dealing with civil avengers who will stoop to anything to have their way and to disparage the traditional ideals which they seek to replace, and to punish their “oppressors.”
They are seeking not only new rights but to fundamentally change the nature of society by rejecting the traditions of the past and foisting their counter cultural beliefs on the unsuspecting and a largely unwilling public.
The new rules become if you do not comply you do not deserve a place in our new society. We see this everywhere now.
The Marquess of Queensberry has left the field to the bare knuckle brawlers. Is there any wonder now why the division is so deep?
(You can reach Mike at: DeaconMike@q.com and listen to his weekly program at https://iowacatholicradio.com/faith-on-trial/.)

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