Sweet Cakes by Melissa Case | Cases | First Liberty

Case History

Aaron and Melissa Klein owned and operated a family bakery, “Sweet Cakes by Melissa,” in Gresham, Oregon. In 2013, a woman asked Aaron and Melissa to make a custom-designed cake for her same-sex wedding. As devout Christians, Aaron and Melissa believed that crafting a message to celebrate the wedding would violate their faith, so they declined to create a custom wedding cake. Every cake Aaron and Melissa made in their bakery was custom designed.

In response, the State of Oregon targeted the religious speech of the Kleins: It forced Aaron and Melissa out of business by penalizing them $135,000 for refusing to create a government-approved message and then issued a gag order, preventing them from even talking about their actual beliefs. Aaron and Melissa appealed the ruling from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) to the Oregon Court of Appeals in April 2016. The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the decision of BOLI, though it reversed the gag order. On October 19, 2018, First Liberty Institute and Boyden Gray & Associates asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the case.

In June 2019, the Court vacated the state court’s decision, and sent the case back to the state to be reviewed again in light of the Masterpiece decision.  On January 9, 2020, the Oregon Court of Appeals again heard oral arguments in the case.

The Court’s Decision

In its 2018 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Court reminded the state that government officials cannot be hostile to the free exercise of the religious beliefs of its citizens.

By vacating the Oregon ruling, the Court is reiterating that it is serious about combating anti-religious hostility frequently committed by state agencies, such as the Colorado agency in the Masterpiece case, and the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries in this case.

In its decision to send the Klein case back to Oregon for further review, the Court reaffirmed an essential principle of fairness. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial before an unbiased judge. Our clients, the Kleins, didn’t have that opportunity in Oregon.

Beyond that, it’s time for government officials to get the message that they cannot punish religious Americans for simply having a viewpoint with which they disagree. The true test of our commitment to freedom is whether we welcome disagreement and live peaceably as neighbors anyway. The Supreme Court seems to be sending a message to lower courts that America’s promise of protection applies even for those forms of expression which may be unpopular.

The Next Round

In August of 2019, First Liberty Institute and Boyden Gray & Associates filed a brief with the Oregon Court of Appeals on behalf of Aaron and Melissa. In the brief, attorneys for the Kleins argue: “Abandoning the constitutional requirements of neutrality, tolerance, and respect, BOLI’s Commissioner, Brad Avakian, spoke dismissively of the Kleins’ religious objections before their case even came before him.”  The brief goes on to say, “Commissioner Avakian’s statements about the Kleins’ religious beliefs—which he uttered before BOLI had even completed its investigation or had filed formal charges—show that his anti-religious bias led him to prejudge the Kleins’ arguments that their art is protected speech and that they are entitled to a religious exemption”

The Oregon Court of Appeals again heard oral arguments in the case in January 2020.

“The government should not be in the business of deciding whose faith is or is not acceptable,” said Keisha Russell, Counsel to First Liberty Institute. “Government officials must remain neutral. When government decides whose faith is or is not acceptable, it discriminates against people of faith.”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 1.9.20
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Oregon Bakers Forced Out of Business Make Their Case Before Oregon Court of Appeals
Attorneys explain how Aaron and Melissa Klein would serve everyone who visited their bakery, but should not be forced to endorse messages that conflict with their beliefs

Salem, OR—Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals again heard oral arguments in the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa.  Last June, the Supreme Court of the United States vacated an earlier decision by the state court that effectively forced Aaron and Melissa out of business by penalizing them $135,000 for refusing to create a government-approved message in conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

“The government should not be in the business of deciding whose faith is or is not acceptable,” said Keisha Russell, Counsel to First Liberty Institute. “Government officials must remain neutral. When government decides whose faith is or is not acceptable, it discriminates against people of faith.”

Former Ambassador to the European Union, C. Boyden Gray and Adam Gustafson of Boyden Gray & Associates are the lead appellate counsel for the case along with First Liberty.

Melissa said, “We welcomed and served everyone in our bakery, but we could not endorse all messages. We lost everything we loved and worked so hard to build. Our hope is that maybe someday we can, once again, reopen our bakery and serve everyone without being forced to celebrate events that conflict with our religious beliefs.”

The Supreme Court sent the case back to Oregon courts for further review in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.   The State of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) found that the Kleins had violated Oregon’s public accommodations statute after Aaron and Melissa declined to design and create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage.  In court, attorneys for the Kleins argued that BOLI’s Commissioner, Brad Avakian, abandoned the constitutional requirements of neutrality, tolerance, and respect when, even before their case even came before him, he spoke dismissively of the Kleins’ religious objections.

In addition to the $135,000 penalty for “emotional damages,” BOLI issued a gag order, limiting the Kleins’ ability to talk publicly about their beliefs.  After BOLI’s decision, the Kleins were forced to shut down their bakery.

To learn more about the case, visit KleinFacts.com.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

 

Press Releases

First Liberty Press Release – 8/8/19

First Liberty Press Release – 6/17/19

First Liberty Press Release – 10/22/18

First Liberty Press Release – 06/24/18

First Liberty Press Release – 02/23/16

First Liberty Press Release – 04/25/16

Fact Sheet for Klein Opening Brief for Oregon Court of Appeals – 04/25/16

First Liberty Press Release – 09/8/16

First Liberty Media Alert – 02/28/17

First Liberty Press Release – 03/2/17

First Liberty Press Release – 09/8/17

Legal Files for Oregon Court of Appeals on Remand

2/4/20 – Memorandum of Additional Authorities

9/26/19 – Klein Reply Brief

9/12/19 – Bureau of Labor and Industries Response Brief

8/8/19 – Brief by Petitioners Aaron and Melissa Klein

 

Legal Files for U.S. Supreme Court

1/25/19 – Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Response Petition

10/19/18 – Klein Cert Petition

9/8/17 – Klein Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Support of Masterpiece Cakeshop

 

Amicus Briefs in Support of Klein Cert Petition

11/15/18 – Institute for Faith and Family

11/21/18 – Southeastern Legal Foundation

11/21/18 – Pacific Legal Foundation

11/26/18 – Cato Institute and Committee for Justice

11/26/18 – Foundation for Moral Law

11/26/18 – Thomas More Society

11/26/18 – Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence

11/26/18 – Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

11/26/18 – Public Advocate of the United States

11/26/18 – Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund

11/26/18 – One Nation Under God Foundation

11/26/18 – Restoring Liberty Action Committee

11/26/18 –  State Attorneys General

 

Legal Files for Oregon Supreme Court

3/2/18 – Amended Petition for Review by the Oregon Supreme Court

3/1/18 – Petition for Review by the Oregon Supreme Court

 

Legal Files for Oregon Court of Appeals

12/28/17 – Court of Appeals Ruling

2/27/17 – Summary of Arguments made in Petitioners Brief 

9/8/16 – Reply Brief of Petitioners – Aaron and Melissa Klein

8/16/16 – Answering Brief of Respondent – Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries 

4/25/16 – Opening Brief of Petitioners – Aaron and Melissa Klein

 

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