Fact Check: There’s a False Claim Circulating on Social Media About the Christian Bakers Who Declined to Make a Gay Wedding Cake and Were Fined $135,000

A Raw Story report published on Friday led with the headline, “Oregon bakers weren’t fined over cake — they were punished for sharing lesbian couple’s home address.” But is that claim true true? The short answer: Absolutely not.

As has been widely reported, Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweetcakes by Melissa, an Oregon bakery, were fined $135,000 in “compensatory damages for emotional, mental and physical suffering,” after they declined to make a wedding cake for Rachel Cryer-Bowman and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. Nowhere in the official order does it say that publishing the complainants’ address led to damages.

In fact, the document makes it patently clear that the judgement was imposed as a result of the refusal, with Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries communications director Charlie Burr telling TheBlaze in a statement over the weekend that the denial of service was, indeed, what led to the $135,000 sum.

Screenshot via Raw Story
Screenshot via Raw Story

“The damages are outlined in the order and directly relate to the couple’s suffering as a result of the denial of service and unlawful discrimination,” Burr said. “No damages were awarded as a result of any media coverage.”

So, where did the claim that the bakers were fined over the sharing of the couple’s address on Facebook address originate? You have to understand the nuances of the case to know.

The address issue was briefly mentioned during the case, with Aaron Klein telling TheBlaze on Sunday that he did post a copy of the official complaint waged against Sweetcakes by Melissa on his Facebook page in February 2013 — an act that Rachel Cryer-Bowman and Laurel Bowman-Cryer reportedly pushed back against.

At the time, Klein said that he didn’t realize that the complaint — which was filed by the couple — included the women’s address.

“I received that in the mail — the complaint from – again this is a public complaint, even in the ruling it is a matter of public record,” he said. “My Facebook account was only a month and a half old at a time.”

Klein said that he uploaded the document as a knee-jerk reaction to his Facebook page, where he said that he had only a few friends at the time, writing an accompanying message akin to, “Here’s what happens when you decline a cake for a same-sex wedding.”

“I did not even realize the address [and] phone number was on there,” he said. “I got it around noon, I put it on my Facebook page around two, Facebook got a complaint from [the couple’s attorney] and [Facebook] pulled it down before five. They pulled my page down.”

Klein said that he quickly apologized over the issue, and that the original posting of the complaint was removed just hours after he uploaded the document. He wrote a Facebook post on February 2, 2013 that read, “I was just notified that the [complainants’] info was on the document I posted. Totally didn’t think about that, was a mistake and I apologize. I hope nobody used it for anything bad.”

Screenshot via Facebook
Screenshot via Facebook

While he said that publishing the address as part of the complaint was unintended, Klein claims that a supporter of Rachel Cryer-Bowman and Laurel Bowman-Cryer subsequently intentionally posted his home address and phone number along with a message that read, “Let’s hope this is the right info, and let’s get it out there like they Laurels [sic].”

Regardless, the fine didn’t play a big role in the final decision in the matter.

“The address was never a part of the fine. It was a no start issue for them,” Klein affirmed, though there were initially calls to also fine the bakers over the media interviews that they did in the aftermath of the couples’ complaint; this would have presumably been part of that.

In the end, though, these issues ended up not leading to damages.

“They asked for $150,000 just for the refusal,” he said, noting that it was decreased by $15,000 to $135,000.

Raw Story published a correction over the weekend and amended its headline to read, “Oregon bakers forced to pay $135,000 after sharing lesbian couple’s home address.”

“An earlier version of this article contained a significant error that resulted from failure to distinguish the difference between the agency’s recommendation and the commissioner’s final ruling,” the correction read. “The bakers were not, as previously reported, punished for threats by others against the couple, as the agency had recommended. They were ordered by the commissioner to pay damages to the couple for emotional harm caused by their unlawful discrimination.”

Speaking just hours before the July 13 deadline that the bakers were given last week to either hand over the money, get on a payment plan or request a stay that would delay payment while the appeals process unfolds, Klein was resolute.

“We’re not paying anything tomorrow,” he said. “I couldn’t if I wanted to.”

Listen to the Kleins share their story below:

While $348,000 has been raised so far via crowdfunding by supporters of the Kleins to help them pay the damages — something that Klein said he and his wife feel very good about — he said that he has no plans of simply cashing out and backing down.

Klein said that he and his wife are “looking at every avenue,” and that his big concern is over other business owners who will face similar issues.

“People will use this as case law … if I let the precedent stand that they will do this, somebody else will get hit,” Klein said. “I’m not just fighting for the freedom of Aaron and Melissa Klein … I’m [fighting for] every American.”

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