Kleins | Cases | First Liberty

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 previously ordered a cake for another event. She had such a positive experience at Sweet Cakes that she wanted Melissa to make her wedding cake.

Aaron Klein explained that by making a wedding cake, they would be endorsing something that violated their religious beliefs, which is something they could not do.

Punished for Religious Beliefs

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), a state administrative agency, sued the Kleins for engaging in discrimination, evenutally finding them guilty and ordering Aaron and Melissa to pay a $135,000 penalty.

In addition to the financial penalty from the state, the Kleins endured hate mail, harassment, and threats of violence.  Business declined, and in September 2013, they were forced to close their bakery.  “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), filed a brief with the Oregon Court of Appeals on behalf of the Kleins on April 25, 2016, arguing that BOLI Commissioner Brad 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.

On December 28, 2017, the court issued its opinion upholding the decision of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) imposing the $135,000 penalty against the Kleins.  Read the decision here.

“Freedom of expression for ourselves should require freedom of expression for others,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute. “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed similar sentiment recently during oral argument of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, a matter very similar to Aaron and Melissa’s.  Justice Kennedy stated, “Tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.”

“We’re appealing to the Oregon Supreme Court to reverse the decision of the Oregon Court of Appeals and restore Aaron and Melissa’s religious liberty,” Shackelford continued.  “No one in America should be forced by the government to choose between their faith and their livelihood.”


For Immediate Release: March 1, 2018

Contact: Lacey McNiel, lmcniel@firstliberty.org

Cell: 972-989-2403, Direct: 972-941-4444

First Liberty Institute Files Appeal at Oregon Supreme Court
In Sweet Cakes by Melissa Case

First Liberty Institute asks state high court to overturn
ruling against Aaron and Melissa Klein

Salem, Ore. –Today, attorneys with First Liberty Institute and Boyden Gray & Associates filed an appeal at the Oregon Supreme Court in the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa.  The Oregon Court of Appeals late last year ruled against the Kleins, upholding a decision by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) that resulted in a $135,000 penalty, forcing the Kleins to close their family-run bakery.

“Aaron and Melissa Klein are entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free expression,” Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, says. “As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said during recent oral arguments on a similar case, ‘Tolerance is essential in a free society, and tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.’ Freedom of expression for ourselves should require freedom of expression for others.”

Since this case began, the Kleins – and those with whom they used to do business – have been targeted with hate mail, harassment and threats.  That, along with the government’s massive financial penalty, forced them to close their business.

Watch the video outlining the harassment the Kleins have received.

“Popular ideas are not in great danger of being suppressed or silenced,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty. “The true test of our commitment to freedom is when we welcome disagreement and live peaceably as neighbors anyway. In its ruling, the Oregon Court of Appeals undermined America’s promise of protection even for those forms of expression which may be unpopular.”

First Liberty Institute, a national religious freedom law firm, represents the Kleins in their appeal along with C. Boyden Gray who served as White House Counsel to President George H. W. Bush.

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

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 Lacey McNiel, Media Coordinator for First Liberty Institute. Email:lmcniel@firstliberty.org, Direct: 972-941-4444, Cell: 972-989-2403

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To download a copy of this press release, click here.

Press Releases

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

Dear Coach Kennedy,

I would like to say thank you. Your dedication to your faith and your commitment to the positive education of our youth is truly admirable. I am deeply grateful for your military service and for taking a courageous stance in protecting religious liberty rights for teachers and administrators.

If our First Amendment protects a player’s right to kneel in protest, it certainly protects your right to kneel in prayer.

I was shocked to learn that Bremerton High School suspended you after denying your request to continue your wholesome practice of giving thanks after football games.

The Bremerton School District’s actions violate the law and send the wrong message to coaches, young people, our communities, and our nation — a message of hostility to religious freedom and intolerance toward personal religious expression.

Please know that you are not alone in this difficult time — I support you and First Liberty as you continue to fight for religious freedom! Our schools need more coaches like you, our country needs more citizens like you, and our world needs more people like you.