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SCOTUS Cake Case Could Affect Ore. LGBTQ Community

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case that could undermine the Oregon Equality Act, which ensures anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case that could undermine the Oregon Equality Act, which ensures anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
December 5, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today on a case that could affect protections for Oregon's LGBT community. The case will determine whether the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado was justified in his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex couple because of his faith.

Amy Herzfeld-Copple, co-executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, says a decade ago, Oregon put into law strong protections against discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but those protections are threatened by this case.

"The Oregon Equality Act could be in peril if there wasn't a favorable ruling in this U.S. Supreme Court case, which could mean that LGBTQ folks and many others could be turned away from a business just because of who they are or who they love," she warns.

The case is similar to the case of Gresham cake-shop owners who also refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple based on their religious beliefs. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which enforces the Oregon Equality Act, found that that was discrimination. The lawyer for the Colorado cake shop claims that the baker is an artist and should not be forced to express what the government dictates.

However, Herzfeld-Copple doesn't believe this case is about religious freedom. She says it's about discriminating under the guise of religious objections.

"If you're going to do business in the public sphere, you have to observe civil-rights laws, laws that have been passed for a good reason - to protect folks that have been historically oppressed," she says.

The owners of the Gresham bakery have appealed the decision ordering them to pay a $135,000 fine. The case currently is in Oregon's Court of Appeals.

In the Colorado Court of Appeals' 2015 ruling on the Masterpiece cakeshop case, justices cited a 1964 challenge to the Civil Rights Act, where a court ruled that a business owner could not refuse to serve black people based on religious beliefs.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR