October 23, 2018 - Tuesday
Bakers Cause a Stir at SCOTUS
When baker Jack Phillips won his case at the U.S. Supreme Court, it was a huge victory for religious liberty -- but it was just one slice of the pie. Christians like Aaron and Melissa Klein were thrilled for Jack when the June ruling came down, but not because it meant the end of their own battle. After five long, exhausting years, they're still fighting for the right to live out their faith -- and hoping this latest appeal will finally give them that chance.
For Christians in the wedding industry, the persecution has almost become a bonding experience. "We know what it is like to be treated unfairly by a state agency and mocked, threatened, and abused by critics," Aaron and Melissa explained when the Masterpiece Cakes decision came down. They've grown close to Jack, Barronelle Stutzman, and so many others who've lost their businesses, their reputations, and tens of thousands of dollars for making the hard choice to turn down custom orders for same-sex weddings. After the latest setback at the Oregon Supreme Court, Melissa was emotional when she talked to reporters. "I loved my shop, and losing it has been so hard for me and my family... That was a part of our life, and it was something that we thought was going to be passed down to our kids. It's something that I miss every day still."
For the parents of five, there's only one place that can give them their lives back: the U.S. Supreme Court. It's the final stop on a half-decade long legal journey. And First Liberty Institute, who's been representing the Kleins, understands exactly how many cases are riding on it. "I think everybody thought this was going to be decided in the Jack Phillips's case," President Kelly Shackelford told me yesterday on "Washington Watch."
"Justice Kennedy was kind of the swing vote, and he kind of found a way out without having to decide that on all of the future cases. But now, obviously, we've got a different court, and we're hoping that we can get a decision -- because [for] the people who are getting persecuted around the country, this is not a theory. The Kleins have had death threats to their children. They've lost their business. What they've been going through is incredible, and this doesn't need to be replicated across the country."
When I asked him how similar the Kleins' case was to Jack's, Kelly said "very." "It's about whether the government can compel citizens to express things that violate their beliefs -- and then if they don't, to either crush or destroy their businesses, which, of course, is a massive violation of the First Amendment... But we don't have a decision on that, and all these people around the country are being persecuted because of that, like Aaron and Melissa." The goal, he explained, "is to answer this for everybody. And I think this case sets it up beautifully."
It also sets up the perfect example of what's at stake in next month's election. Senate Republicans have been relentless in their push to place bona fide constitutionalists on the courts. Without a conservative majority, all of that record-breaking progress will come to an immediate halt -- leaving families like the Kleins at the mercy of judges who care more about rewriting the First Amendment than upholding it. You may not have a say in nominating justices, but you sure have a say in choosing the leaders who do. Make sure the candidates you vote for on November 6 share your values on the court -- and so much more.
As for the Kleins, they wait and hope that, "like Jack, one day a court will correct the religious hostility we suffered at the hands of [Oregon activists] and recognize, as Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his concurring opinion, '[t]he Constitution protects not just popular religious exercises from the condemnation of civil authorities. It protects them all.'"