In January 2013, Rachel Bowman-Cryer and her mother visited Sweetcakes by Melissa, a for-profit bakery, to purchase a cake for Rachel’s upcoming wedding. After learning that Rachel was engaged to a woman, the shop’s owner told Rachel that he would not serve her because of his religious belief that marriage between two women is sinful. When Rachel’s mother explained to the store owner that she too had once shared his beliefs but changed her mind, the store owner responded by quoting a Bible verse that called same-sex relationships an “abomination.”
After receiving a consumer complaint from Rachel’s fiancée, Laurel Bowman-Cryer, describing the bakery’s denial of service, Oregon’s Department of Justice sent the complaint to the bakery and asked for a response. The bakery’s owners, a married couple, responded by posting the Complaint, along with the Bowman-Cryers’ name and contact information, on social media—an act that resulted in others harassing and threatening the Bowman-Cryers.
Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries brought charges against the bakery’s owners for violating Oregon’s antidiscrimination statute, which prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating based on sexual orientation. After a hearing, during which the bakery’s owners argued that they had free-speech and religious-exercise rights to discriminate, an administrative law judge determined that the bakery’s owners had violated the law and ordered them to pay $135,000 in damages.
The bakery’s owners appealed that decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals. They again contended that they had a freedom-of-religion right to deny service to same-sex couples. They also argued that they had a freedom-of-speech right to refuse to serve same-sex couples because serving those customers would be unconstitutional compelled speech. In August 2016, Americans United filed an amicus curiae brief explaining that the right to freely exercise religion does not permit businesses to ignore laws prohibiting discrimination by places of public accommodation, and that these types of laws regulate conduct, not speech.
In December 2017, the Oregon appellate court issued its ruling, agreeing with us on all the issues that we addressed and affirming the trial court’s decision. The bakery sought review by the Oregon Supreme Court, but that request was denied. Then, in October 2018, the bakery’s owners petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Oregon court’s decision. In June 2019, the Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded for further consideration in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
On remand in January 2022, the Oregon Court of Appeals once again upheld the trial court’s conclusion that the bakery had violated Oregon’s antidiscrimination law, reaffirming that the bakery owners’ religious-exercise rights did not give them a license to discriminate. But the Court of Appeals also determined that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries had not determined the amount of damages in a manner that was neutral toward the bakery owners’ religion. The Court of Appeals therefore ordered that the damages award be revisited. In May 2022, the Oregon Supreme Court declined to review the Oregon Court of Appeals’ decision. In September 2022, the bakery’s owners filed another petition for review with the U.S. Supreme Court.