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 effectively forced Aaron and Melissa out of business by ordering them to pay $135,000 for refusing to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding 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 Cakeshop decision. On January 9, 2020, the Oregon Court of Appeals again heard oral arguments in the case. Two years later, in January 2022, the court announced that it reversed part of the earlier decision. The court concluded that BOLI violated the Constitution by acting not neutrally toward the Kleins’ religion. Nevertheless, the court still contended that the Kleins had violated the law, sending the case back to BOLI to revisit the $135,000 amount awarded.
In its 2018 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme 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 Cakeshop 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.
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.
Then, after two years, the Court of Appeals announced that it reversed part of the earlier decision, but still concluded that the Kleins had violated the law. The court held that a state agency, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), acted non-neutrally against the bakers’ religion and remanded the case back to the same agency to reconsider the damages award.
“Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty. “The Court admits the state agency that acted as both prosecutor and judge in this case was biased against the Kleins’ faith. Yet, despite this anti-Christian bias that infected the whole case, the court is sending the case back to the very same agency for a do-over. Today’s opinion should have been the end of this years long saga. It’s time for the state of Oregon’s hostility toward Aaron and Melissa to end.”
For Immediate Release: 1.26.22
Contact: Lacey McNiel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Oregon Appeals Court Admits Agency Acted With Bias Against Christian Bakers, Remanding to Reconsider $135,000 Judgment
Court refused to drop the case against the bakers entirely, despite finding non-neutrality that infected proceedings below
Salem, OR—Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals announced that it reversed in part a decision that forced Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein out of business by penalizing them $135,000 for refusing to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. The court held that a state agency, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), acted non-neutrally against the bakers’ religion and remanded the case back to the same agency to reconsider the damages award.
“Oregon is trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty. “The Court admits the state agency that acted as both prosecutor and judge in this case was biased against the Kleins’ faith. Yet, despite this anti-Christian bias that infected the whole case, the court is sending the case back to the very same agency for a do-over. Today’s opinion should have been the end of this ten year long saga. It’s time for the state of Oregon’s hostility toward Aaron and Melissa to end.”
In its 37-page opinion, the court concluded that, “when viewed in the light of Masterpiece Cakeshop, BOLI’s handling of the damages portion of the case does not reflect the neutrality toward religion required by the Free Exercise Clause.” It added, “[T]he prosecutor’s closing argument apparently equating the Kleins’ religious beliefs with ‘prejudice,’ together with the agency’s reasoning for imposing damages in connection with Aaron’s quotation of Leviticus, reflect that the agency acted in a way that passed judgment on the Kleins’ religious beliefs, something that is impermissible under Masterpiece Cakeshop.”
Former Ambassador to the European Union and First Liberty network attorney, C. Boyden Gray of Boyden Gray & Associates is lead appellate counsel for the case.
The United States Supreme Court originally sent the case back to the Oregon courts to reconsider in light of its Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. There the Justices reminded government officials that they cannot be hostile to the free exercise of the religious beliefs of its citizens. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Supreme Court’s finding of anti-Christian bias ended the state’s case against the baker. Today’s opinion allows the case to continue in the agency that the Oregon Court of Appeals found to have been biased against the Kleins.
The Kleins intend to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court and, if necessary, to the United States Supreme Court.
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 email@example.com or by calling 972-941-4453.
Legal Files for Oregon Court of Appeals on Remand
Legal Files for U.S. Supreme Court
Amicus Briefs in Support of Klein Cert Petition
Legal Files for Oregon Supreme Court
Legal Files for Oregon Court of Appeals