Right-Wing Media Invents “Gag Order” For Anti-Gay Oregon Bakers

Conservative media are falsely claiming that an Oregon bakery that discriminated against a same-sex couple was given a “gag order” prohibiting them from expressing their religious beliefs. In reality, the bakery was ordered to “cease and desist” publicizing that it would violate state law by discriminating against gay customers.

On July 2, Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham, Oregon, must pay $135,000 in damages to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. In 2013, Sweet Cakes refused to bake a cake for Rachel and Laurel's commitment ceremony, after which the couple filed an anti-discrimination complaint using the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which prohibits private businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

In the July 2 ruling, Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner Brad Avakian found that the Kleins had discriminated against the couple on the basis of their sexual orientation. Additionally, Avakian ordered the Kleins to “cease and desist” from publishing or advertising that they would refuse services “of a place of public accommodation... against any person on account of sexual orientation.” As reported in USA Today, “The Kleins will not be penalized for speaking about the issue on Christian television and radio programs.”

Conservative media, led by an article in the far-right Daily Signal, falsely portrayed the “cease and desist” as a “gag order,” implying that the Kleins are barred from discussing the case or their personal religious beliefs. This misinterpretation of the order was echoed by the National ReviewBreitbartWeekly StandardThe Daily CallerFoxNews.com, and during a segment on the Fox News Channel.

During the July 5 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Shannon Bream discussed the case, asking her guest whether he was concerned “as an American” about the “gag order:”

Charlie Burr, Communication Director for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, debunked the “gag order” talking point in an email to Media Matters:  

Our Final Order against Sweet Cakes by Melissa did not contain a gag order (as reported by Fox's Todd Starnes, National Review, Daily Caller and others). It does contain damages for the same-sex couple denied service based on sexual orientation and also includes a cease and desist order directing the business to refrain from discriminating against future customers. That does not mean that the owners are prohibited from talking about the case or their opposition to Oregon anti-discrimination laws.

This cease and desist order is based on enforcement of Oregon's non-discrimination law, which prohibits advertising that services of a public accommodation will be denied on the basis of sexual orientation. It's the same language that makes it illegal for a business to place a “whites only” sign in their window. As Slate's Mark Joseph Stern explained, this is not the same as a gag order (emphasis added):

There is nothing in Avakian's order that bars the Kleins from talking about the ruling. They can rail against it, march against its injustice, and pen Facebook screeds complaining about anti-discrimination law. What they cannot do is proclaim (publicly!) that their business will not serve gay couples.