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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 was 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.”

Supreme Court Brief Supports Related Case

On behalf of Aaron and Melissa Klein, First Liberty attorneys filed a friend-of-the-court brief on September 7, 2017 with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

“The First Amendment stands for the principle that government cannot compel art or speech,” said Stephanie Taub, Counsel with First Liberty. “The Supreme Court has an obligation to ensure that freedoms of speech and religious expression are preserved for all Americans.”

 

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release: September 8, 2017

Contact: Abigail Doty, media@firstliberty.org

Direct: 469-440-7598

BAKERS TO SCOTUS: TOLERATE AND PROTECT CAKEMAKER’S ARTISTIC EXPRESSION, RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
Aaron and Melissa Klein file friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Masterpiece Cakeshop


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Attorneys with First Liberty Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of their clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein.

“In a diverse, tolerant society, we should respect the freedom of conscience, not drive families out of business because the government will not tolerate their religious beliefs,” says Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty.

Aaron and Melissa Klein were penalized $135,000 by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) after they declined to create a custom wedding cake that would celebrate a same-sex marriage. The Kleins are awaiting a decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals as to whether BOLI violated their constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech, and due process.

“The First Amendment stands for the principle that government cannot compel art or speech,” said Stephanie Taub, Counsel with First Liberty. “The Supreme Court has an obligation to ensure that freedoms of speech and religious expression are preserved for all Americans.”

Read more about this case at FirstLiberty.org/Kleins.

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 Abigail Doty at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 469-440-7598.

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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