A Bakery Opens and a Dream Comes True
In 2007, Aaron and Melissa Klein opened a family bakery, in Gresham, Oregon, called “Sweet Cakes by Melissa,” specializing in custom-designed, artistically crafted cakes. Opening the bakery was a “dream come true” for Melissa, who had always loved to express herself creatively.
Aaron and Melissa operated Sweet Cakes as an expression of their Christian faith.
The Kleins chose to create wedding cakes, in part, to celebrate marriages, which their faith taught them to view as the sacred union of one man and one woman. They were happy to serve everyone who entered the shop but would not create any cakes with messages that conflicted with their faith, such as cakes with profanity, cakes celebrating divorce, or cakes advocating harm to others.
In 2013, Aaron and Melissa were asked to make a custom-designed wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding. As devout Christians, Aaron and Melissa believed that crafting a cake to celebrate the wedding would send a message of support for the wedding in violation of their faith. For this reason, they declined to create the custom wedding cake.
The Government Devastates the Kleins’ Business
In response, the State of Oregon brought the full force of law down on the Kleins. It imposed a financially devastating penalty of $135,000 against the Kleins and issued a gag order against them, restricting the Kleins’ freedom to talk about their beliefs in public.
To make matters worse, the Kleins’ case – and punishment – was overseen by a biased commissioner who made statements online and in media interviews clearly indicating he had prejudged the Kleins as guilty before their case came before him.
He accused the Kleins of using religion as “an excuse” for their actions and said they needed to “learn from [the] experience” and be “rehabilitate[d].”
The commissioner’s penalty—along with an internet-orchestrated boycott campaign against the bakery—forced Aaron and Melissa to close Sweet Cakes. “Having to shut down the bakery was devastating,” Melissa said. “Our family had worked so hard to build it. To watch it just disappear—it crushed me. I felt like I’d lost a part of myself.”
The closure was especially painful because the Kleins had planned to pass the bakery down to their children. The closure of the bakery resulted not only in the loss of their “second home,” but their legacy. Almost ten years later, Melissa says she still misses the bakery “every day.”
The trauma the Kleins experienced from losing the bakery was worsened as hostile media outlets hounded the Kleins for interviews and anonymous attackers vandalized their property, broke into their home, and made expletive-laced death threats against the Kleins and their five children.
The Supreme Court Weighs In
Aaron and Melissa appealed the commissioner’s ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals in April 2016. The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the decision, though it reversed the gag order. First Liberty Institute and the Honorable Boyden Gray of Boyden Gray & Associates asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
In June 2019, the Court vacated the Oregon Court of Appeals’ decision and sent the case back to the state to be reviewed in light of the recently decided Masterpiece Cakeshop. In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Supreme Court reminded the state that government officials must provide “neutral and respectful consideration” of all religious claims. Governments may not engage in religious discrimination against citizens, even if they disagree with the citizens’ beliefs.
By vacating the Oregon ruling, the Court showed it is serious about combating the anti-religious hostility frequently committed by state actors, such as the Oregon commissioner. The Court also reaffirmed an essential principle of due process: everyone is entitled to a fair trial before an unbiased judge.
Oregon Tries to Have its Cake and Eat It, Too
In January 2022, the Oregon Court of Appeals concluded that the Oregon commission violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause by failing to act neutrally toward the Kleins’ religion. The court struck the $135,000 damages award because of the Free Exercise violation. Nevertheless, the court still contended that the Kleins had violated the law and sent the case back to the same biased Oregon commission for further proceedings.
“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. It’s time for the State of Oregon’s hostility toward Aaron and Melissa to end.”
In July 2022, without ordering a new hearing, BOLI reduced the damage award from $135,000 to $30,000. The Kleins continue to seek full and final vindication of their First Amendment rights.
The Kleins Go Back to the Supreme Court
In June 2022, First Liberty attorneys announced that they would appeal the Kleins’ case to the U.S. Supreme Court by the end of Summer 2022. They will argue that the commission violated the Kleins constitutional rights by failing to provide them with due process and by trying to force the Kleins to create art that communicates a message that violates the Kleins’ religious beliefs.
“All Americans are entitled to due process, with a fair hearing before an unbiased tribunal. The Kleins never received that,” Taub said. “We hope the Court will hear the Kleins case and clarify that all Americans have a constitutional right to due process, free speech, and religious liberty.”
For Immediate Release: 1.26.22
Contact: Lacey McNiel, email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 972-941-4453.
Legal Files for Oregon Supreme Court (2022)
Legal Files for Oregon Court of Appeals on Remand (2019-22)
Legal Files for U.S. Supreme Court (2018)
Amicus Briefs in Support of Klein Cert Petition at U.S. Supreme Court (2018)
Legal Files for Oregon Supreme Court (2018)
Legal Files for Oregon Court of Appeals (2016-17)