There’s something amazing about watching a bogus story spread like wildfire through conservative media. This week offered a rather classic example.
The story actually starts with a 2013 incident in which a lesbian couple in Oregon approached a local bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, about a cake for their commitment ceremony. The bakery’s owners, Aaron and Melissa Klein, refused, citing their anti-gay beliefs.
The couple, taking advantage of Oregon’s Equality Act of 2007, filed a complaint – state law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. State officials, not surprisingly, sided with couple and imposed a fine against Sweet Cakes.
But a few days ago, the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal published a report claiming that an Oregon labor commissioner had “placed an effective gag order” on the bakery. Which led the Weekly Standard to repeat the claim. National Review soon followed. From there, it was on to Breitbart, the Daily Caller, Fox News’ website, and on Sunday, a Fox News broadcast.
The Weekly Standard’s piece, in particular, told readers:
According to the state, the Kleins are now forbidden from talking about the ruling against them.
This isn’t true. Before your uncle who watches Fox all day sends you an all-caps email expressing his outrage, let’s set the record straight.
Oregon Labor Commission Brad Avakian did, in fact, issue this order (pdf), concluding that Sweet Cakes was guilty of discrimination and ordering the owners to pay $135,000 in damages. As part of the findings, Avakian noted that the owners had made clear that they intend to continue to discriminate going forward.
In Slate, Mark Joseph Stern explained why that matters:
Noting that the Kleins had run afoul of Oregon law by asserting their intention to keep discriminating against gay couples, Avakian proposed a simple solution: Stop doing that. Rather than fine the Kleins further, Avakian wrote that the couple must “cease and desist” stating that Sweet Cakes would continue to turn away gay couples. As individuals, the Kleins may declare that Oregon’s anti-discrimination law should not protect gay couples. But when speaking publicly about the future of their own business, they must not opine that they will maintain a policy of anti-gay discrimination. […]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.
By no sensible definition is this a “gag order,” anymore than it’s a gag order to tell an employer he or she can’t post a sign in the window that reads, “No blacks need apply.”
But on “Fox News Sunday,” guest host Shannon Bream told viewers that the Sweet Cakes owners “cannot talk about their beliefs in the context of this case,” asking a guest, “[R]egardless of how you feel about the underlying merits of the case, do you have any concerns as an American about what essentially turns into a gag order now for this couple?”
I can’t wait to see the correction.