Redefining Bakery

Have you ever heard of a Christian bakery?

I’ve been to many bakeries in my life. French bakeries, Italian bakeries, European bakeries, Mexican bakeries, but never a Christian bakery. The term just popped up because a so-called “Christian bakery,” Sweet Cakes by Melissa closed over a controversy. The owners refused to bake a cake for a client’s wedding because they thought the “act” of baking the cake violated their religious liberty. In Yiddish, we’d say the act was treif, but treif refers to products, not acts, and that’s where the people who orchestrated this controversy run into trouble.

The Oregon Family Policy Council, sister to our Virginia [some] Families Foundation placed a sign in the closed bakery reading:


The late Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries Manhattan Declaration posted an article on its Facebook page that lead to this exchange:

Jon: A free marketplace is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Politics aside, any business owner should be able to choose whom he serves. We need to stop inventing ways to control people.

Jonathan: Agree. If Woolworth’s doesn’t want black people at their lunch counter, so be it.

Lois: apples and oranges. Not a good comparison

Joe: Actually, it is not about WHO to serve, but WHAT they were asking them to do. Why can’t our side get this straight? If even we can’t get it, how can we expect our opponents to understand?

Nice try Joe. Actually, Aaron Klein, the owner, referred to the clients as “abominations unto the lord.” It was about WHO.

19 thoughts on “Redefining Bakery

  1. Epluribusunum

    As far as I know, businesses do have the right to refuse service to someone for an actual reason having to do with that person (say if the person is being disruptive). But we now have the civil rights laws under discussion because some people would otherwise refuse service to entire categories of people for no reason other than their personal dislike of those people.

    In practice, businesses refuse service to people for all sorts of reasons, but it’s only the potential for an injured party to sue that prevents the wholesale discrimination accepted in the past. That’s what the laws are there for, to discourage the practice of discrimination, and they can’t do that if they’re never invoked. Barbara Munsey, you seem to find no circumstance in which such a lawsuit would be justified, and even express the view that the option of filing a lawsuit should be unavailable. You advocate the “right” to discrimination with no consequences. You are also very poorly informed about the history of systemic harassment, abuse and violence, let alone mere discrimination, directed toward LGBTI people in this country. Obviously race is not sexual orientation is not gender is not religious affiliation, etc; these are all attributes of a person that are different from one another. However, the principle of freedom from discrimination on the basis of any of these attributes is the same.

    In the Elane Photography case, the finding of fact that Elane is qualified as a public accommodation was not contested, which suggests that a different business might not be one. My understanding is that if you are offering products or services to the general public (not restricted to a defined subset), you are subject to public accommodations law.

    There is such a thing as a Jewish bakery because of cultural and religious practices having to do with food; it isn’t a “Jewish bakery” simply by virtue of being owned by a Jewish person, it caters to a particular clientele. Likewise, an Italian bakery specializes in products unique to that culture, and so forth. But these are still businesses that serve the general public. Anyone can go to a Jewish or Italian bakery and buy the products they have for sale that day, and the bakeries can’t sell their products to one customer but refuse to sell them to another because they don’t like the way the product might be used (bacon and egg on challah is delicious). If a Jewish baker wanted to exert that kind of control over his product, he would not be able to operate a public accommodation, period.

    When PD says he has never heard of a “Christian bakery,” he means that he has never heard of a bakery serving the general public that specializes in products and services unique to a Christian cultural tradition, and advertised as such. If you know of such a thing, please enlighten us – and if there is such a thing, they are subject to exactly the same requirement to sell their products and services to all members of the public. Their religious convictions don’t permit them to serve some customers and not others, either.

    Your abortion cake example raises an interesting legal question in its own right. That cake carries a specific message, and if the bakery has made photo cakes for other customers or the same customer expressing other messages and viewpoints, I think they would be obligated to make the cake (setting aside the possibility that the image itself is pornographic or patently offensive). However, that isn’t a good comparative example to the Klein’s situation. In their case, they offer to the public the service of making wedding cakes. Wedding cakes, as a class of product, are neutral; they don’t carry specific messages. The generic message they all express is “[couple] getting married.” The only thing that made this wedding cake different to the Kleins is who it was for.

    For that reason, I think that PD’s example of rainbow cookies is a much better fit. The product is the same whether it’s baked for a bible study class studying the Noah story, or for a gay/straight alliance meeting, but what the bakers perceive as the “message” of the product is determined by who it is for. So, to follow up on PD’s question, would it be acceptable for the bakers to probe into what will be done with these hypothetical rainbow cookies? Should they have the right to know who will be consuming them, at what sort of event, in celebration of what ideas and beliefs? And should the bakers then be able to decide on that basis whether or not they will bake the cookies for a particular customer?

    “And back to building positives instead of creating negatives, how does the wheel turn forward to everyone’s best benefit?” That is an excellent question, thank you. That’s why I shared the story about the resort owner and the religious family, as an example of recognizing that businesses market to specific clientele, and coexisting in the public square. Note that neither party was motivated by animus, though. Animus is the reason that discrimination has to be restrained by law, as I pointed out in the first paragraph. Both modes are necessary for the wheel to turn forward.

    (Finally, PD did not accuse you of being anti-gay. What he said is that you are doing a good imitation, meaning that you exhibit considerable skill at channeling all of the memes, concerns and arguments of the anti-gay establishment. You must read a great deal of their propaganda. In fact, we assume that you are not anti-gay, as you surely would not publicly lie about something as important as your support for our full legal equality. Please refrain from misrepresenting what other commenters have said on this blog, and elsewhere. If you are unsure, ask.)

  2. Barbara Munsey

    elderberry, while I understand that it is necessary for you and others to believe that each lawsuit is a milestone EXACTLY like black civil rights, or the Holocaust (or is that belief in AGW? Depends on the day, I guess), the only thing comparable (IMO) is when AIDS was still called GRID, and people knew so little about it and were so frightened by it that healthcare workers, funeral parlors, etc refused to deal with patients at all; however, AIDS is a lot more serious than the imagined diseases that were being supposedly being avoided by ghettoization of Jews or sequestered bathrooms/waterfountains for blacks. LGBTQQIO people have never in this country been subject to the kind of widespread persecution suffered by blacks here or by Jews (and others, including gays) in Europe under the Holocaust. We remain one of the freest and most fortunate nations on earth, including for the many gay people who have happy lives with careers, families, and so on. I suspect there are a lot more gay people just living their lives nationwide than the few in the spotlight engaging in legal action for human rights over cakes from christians.

    Did a little more googling, to read a wider variety of coverage on the bakery thing, and after entering “gay couple sues bakery” was surprised to find the top article a two-year-old one from Iowa, where a lesbian couple went to a Christian baker to request a wedding cake, they each explained their positions and (thought they/said they) parted amicably, then the women sued. At first they issued a statement saying “it isn’t about cake or the right to serve, but about equality”.

    Not about the right to serve? Okay. There’s more.

    After about three articles on that case, the next one was from this year, but about a lesbian couple in Colorado who went to a Christian baker and requested a wedding cake, and then sued.


    I plugged in plain old “gay couple sues” to try to get the most current info, which I thought would be the case of the lesbian couple in Oregon suing a Christian baker, and the first hit on that was a page full of articles from the UK about a gay male couple who is contemplating/has filed a lawsuit against the Church of England to force a church wedding, and intimating legal issues to arise from that in the US eventually as well.

    Those wacky Brits! Somebody with a more level head over here should tell them that it is just a christainist dominionist extremist fantasy that any gay couple would try to force church action through the courts–all ALL gay people want is to be left alone, right?

    This is going to be fascinating as it plays out in courts, over all the permutations of the issue of two protected classes duking it out to see which one is more equal.

    And the amount of time and money that will be spent on it is staggering.

  3. Elder Berry

    You are sad Barbara Munsey, as Lewis Carroll would say.

    You don’t hear yourself.

    Maybe Rosa Parks should just have ridden a different bus? Maybe the Brown who sued in Brown vs. Board of Education should just have sent their kids to a different school district?

  4. Barbara Munsey

    In some states, are the signs that say “we reserve the right to refuse service…” illegal now? Take it away from the gay issue for a minute; do establishments have the right to refuse service, for any reason of their own?

    Obviously it was a bad business decision. Look where it got them. It remains to be seen where the current business decision to move to their home gets them. I’m sure we’ll all hear about it from both sides sometime in the future.

    Under federal law, are all businesses public? And where does religion, or sexuality, or political position come into it if they are NOT?

    A thought I had when looking at all the different business directories was, what if a pro life group was having an anniversary celebration–say, the 25th of their group’s inception coinciding with the annual March for Life–and went to a local bakery on the pro choice and/or feminist directory, and ordered a large cake, stipulating that the technique (which is offered) be used to transfer a photo of a dismembered fetus to the surface of the icing, with the legend “Abortion Is Murder”?

    What would your position be?

    Should the bakery make the cake?

    If not, should the pro life group (which is not exclusivley christian, nor is it organized that way) sue?

    Should they call for a boycott and public shaming?

    Or should they take their business elsewhere, with both sides saying good riddance?

    Should the bakery sue for harassment?

    Yes, everyone has the right to try and do as they wish, and they also have the right to go to court about it.

    And back to building positives instead of creating negatives, how does the wheel turn forward to everyone’s best benefit?

  5. Epluribusunum

    You seem to have forgotten that this incident is not one of a business making a “bad business decision,” but an unlawful business decision.

    Again, these are your words, not someone else’s: “It should be the business’ choice to refuse service..” What this indicates is a desire to see public accommodations law eliminated. Let’s read it again: “It should be the business’ choice to refuse service.” If it is the “choice” of a business owner, therefore, to require a classification of customer to go around to the back door for service, or his “choice” to refuse service entirely, or his “choice” to sell you a cupcake but refuse to sell you a wedding cake, this all “should be” lawful, according to your statement. It shouldn’t be unlawful, but only subject to the consequences of the market, of being a “bad business decision.” If that’s what you think, fine – but don’t say it and then try to deny saying it.

    The roughly 75% of radio callers I referenced did indeed think it was a bad business decision. They also thought, correctly, that it was a decision made in violation of the law, and several callers explicitly referenced their own experiences in being denied service before such civil rights law was established. They also explicitly pointed out that the point of “standing on principle,” if indeed that’s what the bakery owners were doing, is that you accept the consequences of your choices, whether it’s breaking the law OR just making a bad business decision, and that it’s cowardly to refuse to accept those consequences. In the case of the Kleins, they appear to believe that the law does not even apply to them. They have somehow gotten the erroneous idea that any decision motivated by religious conviction must be lawful, just because it’s motivated by religious conviction. That is not now, nor has it ever been, true.

  6. Barbara Munsey

    elderberry, not what I said, but it’s never bothered you before.

    pd, read back through the repetitive threads on this blog: I agree that the civil institution and benefits of marriage should be available to all adult couples. You give a great impression of a lot of things yourself–one of which is the extremist you reveal yourself to be in branding me anti-gay for any disagreement with your personal gospel.

    Yes, epu, businesses should be free to make bad decisions. The radio show you reference indicates most thought this was a bad decision.

    let’s get back to the litigious issue: I did a little googling when I came back here and saw the predictable reframing and accusations, and guess what? First of all, pd needs to get out more: I was typing in “christian business” and got “christian business directory” on autocomplete, so I hit it and it returned 90.4 MILLION hits. I bet there are some bakeries there too.

    However, that wasn’t first in the things I plugged in there: “gay business directory” came close, with its own yellow and blue pages, and 94.3 million hits. It isn’t so much “go to your own bakery” as a general weariness with lawsuits, over any and everything. The top hit there was the gay realtor’s association, which I first saw back when you guys were networking to get that woman fired: realtors can’t discriminate, but having a gay realty website welcoming to the degree that it looks like that’s all they serve? Probably okay though, because nobody’s suing them, right?

    “pro choice business directory was pretty slim, at 3.3M returns, but first place was “pro life”, at 117M.

    Granted, there’s probably a great deal of cross-pollentaion among the categories (recall, gay people aren’t a uniform mass, any more than any other group is, much as some of you prefer to think that way with opponents), but the fact remains that what I did say was that it would seem to me to be more productive, both in the business sense and the positive activism sense, to patronize those businesses you wish to succed, rather than seeking out businesses you feel need “punishing”.

    I understand that as human rights activists you have a duty, as well as carte blanche, so do as you will.

    I still believe religious freedom bears watching as all of the issues continue–and I’m waiting for some self-proclaimed human rights activists to take it to the fundamentalist Islamist societies that encourage far more than refusal to make pastry; christians in a first world country are a much safer choice, and produce many good feelings of their own through “punishment”.

  7. Epluribusunum

    What you said was this: “It should be the business’ choice to refuse service, even if it’s a bad business decision.”

    Did you mean for that statement to apply only to some circumstances, or to all? If only some, how do you decide which ones?

    Public accommodations law is a well established concept, I think. The Justices in the Elane case provided a cogent explanation – again, a business cannot offer some customers their full array of products or services while denying some of those products or services to others. Whether they have made an accurate assumption about a customer’s sexual orientation, racial or ethnic background, etc, is immaterial to that fact.

    I was listening to a very conservative Christian radio station yesterday, and many callers were bringing up this case and the similar one involving a florist in Washington state. Interestingly, the host took the same legal position we’re taking here – that if a business is open to the public, they can’t deny services to any category of person, that a business operating as a public accommodation is not the same as your home or your church. He held to the position that the Kleins should have served their gay customers just as they would anyone else, and if they aren’t willing to do that they shouldn’t be in business. The callers were agreeing with him around 75% of the time. So even within this conservative Christian radio audience there are serious fissures, with most recognizing that “separate but equal” isn’t morally acceptable, even as they feel that within their own faith tradition being gay isn’t morally acceptable. They are not a monolithic community, either.

  8. Pariahdog Post author


    The only details we know are; 1) per your reading, the couple patronized the bakery and 2) Aaron Klein referred to the couple as “abominations unto the lord.” We don’t know the design details of the cake, however if you search google images for wedding cake, you’ll see that the majority of the images are gender neutral.

    Again, was it the cake, the eating of the cake, the ceremony that the cake acted in, or the “act” that Aaron Klein thought was going to occur after the couple ate the cake? What exactly violated Klein’s deeply held religious beliefs. When is baking and selling a very gay wedding cake a sin?

    If you’d like to talk about Syria, you may comment on John Flannery’s post, or, better, you may start your own.

  9. Elder Berry

    Wow! Munsey believes in separate but equal!

    “They must have their own bakeries, why do they need to go to ours?”

    If you didn’t read it….you wouldn’t believe she could write it.

  10. Barbara Munsey

    Talk about apples and oranges!

    Again, it isn’t “just a cake, like any other cake” if it is a wedding cake, with a gay wedding theme. But I do understand it needs to be just a cake like any other cake for the issue to be addressed re suing to punish them for not baking a special occasion cake for a ceremony that goes against their religious beliefs.

    This seems like the “we are exactly like everybody else and just want to be left alone”/”you need an awareness seminar in tthe differences between sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, gender fluidity and sexual expression” translated into fondant and boiled frosting.

    Did the Muslim cabdrivers win or lose their suit over refusing to drive passengers carrying alcohol? That would seem to be more similar to this suit than stand your ground, but with that new lawsuit that adds the Bush Doctrine, I’m guessing there’s a lot of progressive things that need talking about.

    Like Syria.

    Or not.

  11. Pariahdog Post author


    Thank you for the “stand your ground” argument. You’re saying that the “Christian” bakery wasn’t anti-gay, but when the couple “shoved their sexuality down the bakers’ throats” by asking them to bake a “gay” wedding cake, that was just too much to stomach. The Kleins have standards based on deeply held religious convictions.

    The Manhattan Declaration sets this up, doesn’t it (emphasis mine):

    we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of
    being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

    Let’s assume that the Kleins (ignoring the “abomination” remark) have a legitimate right to protect their “deepest convictions.” Fair enough. They don’t want to bake “gay” cakes, or cookies, or breads or pastries. They don’t offer “gay” baked goods. It’s about the product, the WHAT, not the WHO. Good. Follow it through. Here are four points to consider.

    1. What makes a product gay? Is a rainbow cookie gay? What if a conservative Christian school orders rainbow cookies for their Noah Bible study?

    2. In order to distinguish between gay and straight products, the bakers need to ask the clients what they are going to do with the products. When was the last time you went to a store and the clerk said “What are you going to do with the product I’m selling you?”

    3. The Kleins weren’t so concerned over the use of the cake. Family and friends were going to eat it. They were concerned over the meaning of the ceremony. If the ceremony was religious, the Klein’s refusal was also religious discrimination.

    4. The Kleins’ refusal was one-step removed. The underlying religious concern was that after the ceremony, the couple was going to go and have sex. The bakers didn’t like what the customers were going to do after they consumed the product, and for the rest of their lives for that matter.

  12. Barbara Munsey

    epu, I don’t recall saying anything about having black people eat out of the back door, but again, the game is played the way it is.

    Let’s take that transferred accusation for a minute: people who are black, or Asian, or in a wheelchair, etc are instantly recognizeable as black, Asian, etc. Maybe you have gaydar, but I don’t–I can’t tell that someone is gay just by looking at them (unless perhaps it’s something like a pride event, and somebody is in extravagant costume, holding a sign that says “out and proud”, etc, but that’s still an assumption on my part unless I talk to them and confirm it, which I really have no interest in doing: that’s THEIR business, and I’m not particularly interested in the sex lives of strangers–or friends for that matter!–which may be my age talking. I do believe there’s such a thing as TMI, and on the one hand yes people who practice that are just being open, honest etc, and on the other, that’s THEIR business, and I’d prefer not to have someone make it mine, for whatever reason of their own). I can’t tell someone is Jewish by looking at them (unless I’m in Brooklyn and they’re in Hasidic garb, etc, but again, that’s no more than a pretty good assumption on my part).

    If the customers were served for other events, then the bakery was not telling gay people they weren’t welcome, they were saying they don’t do gay weddings. If customers were asked if they were gay before being sold bread or cookies, and then denied if the answer were yes, that would be an apples to apples comparison with black people being sent to the back door or not served at all.

    And that’s what I meant with the apples to oranges re appetizers v. entrees. The women had bought cakes, cakes were not denied. The wedding cake can’t be just a cake for one purpose of the argument, and a gay wedding cake for another–cakes always were available, and no doubt still shall be. The bakery does not wish to participate in gay weddings by baking gay wedding cakes.

    I imagine we’ll see lots more of this as states hash out their own takes on it, and cases make their way to the fed and law is either changed or upheld.

    I still think it is better to build businesses you agree with as activists, and let businesses you don’t fend for themselves. Some of the commentary on this and the NM case (and Chick-fil-A, and Corkins) is interesting from the hardcores (on both sides): some feel people need to be “punished”. Boycotts etc are a form of soft vigilantism, and I don’t see “the gay community” as some monolithic borg with one heart, one mind, and so on. I expect gay people disagree on as many things as anybody does.

    The strident tone is probably counterproductive in the long run (but no doubt satisfying if one wishes), just as building better things is more productive than “punishing” those one sees as unrighteous.

    We had this conversation when DOMA was rendered; it will be interesting to see the cases arise and proceed.

  13. Epluribusunum

    “Entrees and appetizers, like apples and oranges?”

    This doesn’t really make sense, does it? If you mean it literally, well, yes. That’s kind of the point, different levels or kinds of service are like apples and oranges.

    But if you mean it in the way that would be your typical use of the term, you’re saying that Justice Chavéz’ hypothetical and the facts of Elane are like apples and oranges.

    Nope, sorry. A public accommodation (bakery, restaurant) refuses a specific service or product (wedding cake, entree) to a specific classification of customer (gay couples, women).

  14. Epluribusunum

    Really? I’ve been told about restaurants in Leesburg that required black customers to go around to the back door to pick up their food. You would like to allow that “choice” again? I’m sure there are still some refugees from that earlier era who would do such things if they could.

    I think there’s a way of accommodating different points of view without it having to become litigious, and it was suggested by Justice Chavéz. If the bakery owners want to avoid being patronized by gay couples getting married (or any other discrete group of people for that matter), they can “post a disclaimer .. advertising that they oppose same-sex marriage but that they comply with applicable antidiscrimination laws.” That way the free market is allowed to work; their prospective customers will know the nature of the business, and those who disagree with their views will know to seek a “gay-friendly or gay-owned” bakery instead, and those who agree can know that they are patronizing a kindred spirit. I imagine there are more subtle ways of making their priorities known if that’s what they want. The point is that the only thing they can’t do is flout the applicable antidiscrimination laws. There’s no guarantee (although unlikely) that someone won’t demand to be served just to make a point, but that’s the price of being a public accommodation.

    Businesses obviously cater to specific customers. There’s a story here about the owner of a resort that is marketed primarily to the gay community. He was called one day by an orthodox Jewish man who wanted to book a stay for his family. The owner didn’t tell the man “we don’t serve families like yours,” and as a public accommodation he could not have legally refused service to him. What he did was just tell him about the nature of his resort, that there would be many gay couples staying there. He offered to suggest other local resorts that were probably a better fit for a family with a lot of children to entertain. And in turn, the orthodox guy didn’t get offended and demand a service he didn’t really want just to prove that he could get it. Nobody was called “an abomination,” nobody got sued.

  15. Barbara Munsey

    Yes, I’ve read it.

    Entrees and appetizers, like apples and oranges?

    I doubt that there aren’t gay-friendly or gay-owned bakeries available to patronize and promote for this or any other couple, gay or straight, as opposed to hounding one that does not wish to provide service to an event they don’t support.

    It should be the business’ choice to refuse service, even if it’s a bad business decision.

    And the fact of the matter is, as with the abortive Chick-fil-A “boycott”, as much as some people may be drawn to pillory an entity for having different opinions, others will go buy there in support of same, or in opposition to bully tactics (by either side).

    I’ve always found that interesting about the guy who went to shoot up the FRC–he spent money at Chick-fil-A before he went, didn’t he?

  16. Epluribusunum

    Actually, that demonstrates even more forcefully that it is the who, not the what. If the bakery offers the service of wedding cakes, they have to offer that service to everyone. They can’t pick and choose what services to offer to which customers. You might want to also read the ruling from the Elane Photography case, which I discuss here:

    [P]ublic accommodations may not offer different services to different classifications of customers, for example, “if a restaurant offers a full menu to male customers, it may not refuse to serve entrees to women, even if it will serve them appetizers.”

  17. Barbara Munsey

    Some of the articles I’ve read on this state that the bakery has made cakes for the couple before, for other occasions. They have been customers, apparently.

    It seems it actually is WHAT (the wedding cake) and not WHO (the couple/customers), if the coverage is true.

  18. Elder Berry

    Sure, let’s just put some access control signs up over the water fountains again, too, and hey, make rules for the seats on the bus, while we’re at it.

    They’re still out there, their visible targets have just changed. Makes one ashamed to share a species with them, much less a religion .

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