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.

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”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 8.8.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Oregon Bakers Urge State Court to Protect Their Right to Free Exercise After U.S. Supreme Court Vacated Earlier Decision
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated an earlier Oregon court decision that allowed the state to penalize bakers for exercising their faith

Portland, OR—Today, First Liberty Institute and Boyden Gray & Associates filed a brief with the Oregon Court of Appeals on behalf of Aaron and Melissa Klein.  In June, the Supreme Court of the United States vacated an earlier decision by the state court that effectively forced bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein 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 Supreme Court sent the case back to Oregon courts for further review in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

“In its Masterpiece decision, the Supreme Court reminded government officials everywhere, that they must be neutral toward and respectful of the religious beliefs of its citizens,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel to First Liberty. “The Oregon decision against the Kleins was polluted by the same anti-religious bias that caused the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop.  It’s time for the Oregon courts to adhere to the Supreme Court’s precedent.”

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

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 the brief filed today, 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”

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


Press Releases

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

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