Meet Aaron and Melissa Klein

Aaron, Melissa and their five children live in Northwestern Oregon. In 2007, they fulfilled their dream of opening a family bakery, called “Sweet Cakes by Melissa.”

“When we opened the shop we thought it would be a great way to provide for our children,” Aaron said.

For Melissa, the bakery was an opportunity to express her creativity. “When I bake a cake, it becomes my canvas,” she said. “I love getting to pour myself into cakes to create something unique and special for every customer who comes to us.”

Melissa dreamed that her children would be able to take over the shop one day—but that dream was shattered only a few years later.

A Request for a Wedding Cake

In January 2013, a woman came to the bakery and requested a wedding cake for her same-sex wedding. The woman was a return customer, who had come to the bakery months earlier to order a cake for another event. She had such a positive experience at Sweet Cakes that she wanted Melissa to make her wedding cake.

Melissa and Aaron are devout Christians who are committed to following the teachings of their faith. Aaron Klein explained that by making a wedding cake, they would be endorsing something that violated their beliefs, which is something they could not do.

Punished for Christian Beliefs

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), a state administrative agency, came after the Kleins personally, ordering Aaron and Melissa to pay the women $135,000.

Additionally, BOLI Commissioner Brad Avakian issued a gag order against the Kleins, ordering them to “cease and desist” from saying that they will not participate in a same-sex wedding or otherwise talk about their desire to run their business according to their faith.

Before hearing the Kleins’ case, however, Commissioner Avakian made multiple public comments on Facebook and in media interviews, indicating that the Kleins “disobey[ed]” the law and needed “rehabilitation.” According to First Liberty attorneys, Commissioner Avakian’s comments indicate that he had judged the Kleins guilty of violating the law before he heard all the facts of the case – a clear violation of due process.

In the meantime, the Kleins were targeted with hate mail, harassment, and threats. Business declined, and in September 2013, their bakery storefront was forced to close its doors. As a result, in order to provide for his family, Aaron went to work as a garbage collector to make ends meet.

“For us to lose the bakery was really crushing,” said Melissa. “We worked so hard to build it up. We poured our heart into it. It was my passion. To have it taken away like that was really devastating.”

First Liberty Institute Legal Action

First Liberty Institute, along with Ambassador Boyden Gray (former White House Counsel for President George H.W. Bush, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and law clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren), is appealing the Kleins’ case to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

First Liberty and Boyden Gray filed a brief on April 25, 2016, arguing that Commissioner Avakian and the State of Oregon violated the Kleins’ rights to free speech, religious freedom, and due process. Read a summary of the arguments made in the brief

They note that Thomas Jefferson said that to “compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors” is “tyrannical.” They argue that it is just as tyrannical to compel people to use their time and talent to promote a cause that their religion forbids them from celebrating.

The attorneys also note that Commissioner Brad Avakian’s statements to the media reveal that before he heard the facts of the case, he had already decided that the Kleins were guilty.

“In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute. “Commissioner Brad Avakian decided the Kleins were guilty before he even heard their case. This is an egregious violation of the Kleins’ rights to due process. We hope the Oregon Court of Appeals will remedy this by reversing or dismissing the government’s case against the Kleins.”

The case will be heard before the Oregon Court of Appeals on March 2, 2017.

“This case centers on one vitally important question: can the government force citizens to violate their conscience or their faith?” Shackelford asks. “The Constitution is clear – the government cannot force people to violate their religious beliefs. The First Amendment was written to prevent exactly that.”

“One of the great things about America is that we are a tolerant society that protects diversity of thought,” Shackelford continues. “We should all be willing to peacefully coexist with different opinions. That’s the only way freedom can truly exist. We hope the Oregon Court of Appeals will dispense justice for the Kleins and honor their constitutional right to religious freedom.”

For Immediate Release: March 2, 2017
Contact: Kassie Dulin, kdulin@firstliberty.org
Cell: 214-542-4334, Direct: 972-941-4575

Aaron and Melissa Klein, former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, appear at hearing before Oregon Court of Appeals

Salem, Ore. – Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals heard the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, a couple who lost their bakery for running their business according to their religious beliefs.

During the oral arguments, the Kleins’ attorneys argued that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) violated the Kleins’ constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech, and due process.

“The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs,” Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, says. “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We hope the court will uphold the Kleins’ rights to free speech and religious liberty.”

The case, Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, was heard before a three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals. First Liberty Institute, a national religious freedom law firm, represents the Kleins in their appeal along with former President George H. W. Bush White House Counsel Boyden Gray.

In a press conference following the lawsuit, Melissa Klein made the following statement:

“When we opened our bakery, we loved serving all customers who came into the shop, regardless of their identity or beliefs. My cakes were my canvas. I sketched and custom designed each one to fit each couple perfectly. My bakery wasn’t just called ‘Sweet Cakes Bakery,’ it was ‘Sweet Cakes by Melissa’ because I pour my passion and heart into each cake I make. My faith is a part of that. I was happy to serve this couple in the past for another event and I would be happy to serve them again, but I couldn’t participate in a ceremony that goes against what I believe.

I have a strong faith in God, whom I love with all my heart. My whole life is dedicated to living for Him, in the best way that I know how. America is a place where the government can’t force you to violate your religious beliefs or tell you what to believe, but we feel like that is exactly what happened to us. We lost everything we loved and worked so hard to build. I loved my shop – it meant everything to me. And losing it has been so hard for me and my family. Nobody in this country should ever have to go through what we’ve experienced.

We just want the government to tolerate and accept differences of opinion, so we can continue to follow our faith. We hope that, even if people have different beliefs from us, that they will show each other tolerance and that we can peacefully live together and still follow our faith. That’s all we want. Thank you.”

The Oregon Court of Appeals will issue an opinion on the case in the coming months. There is no specific timeline for them to issue a decision.

Read more about the Kleins’ case at KleinFacts.com.

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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Kassie Dulin, Chief Communications Office for First Liberty Institute. Email: kdulin@firstliberty.org, Direct: 972-941-4575, Cell: 214-542-4334.

Kleins – Client Announcement – Press Release

Press Release – 04/25/16

Fact Sheet for Klein Opening Brief for Oregon Court of Appeals

9/8/16 – Reply Brief of Petitioners – Press Release

2/28/17 – Media Alert of Oral Arguments at Oregon Court of Appeals 

3/2/17 – Oral Arguments – Press Release