Can the government force you to act against your conscience? To say or do something that directly conflicts with your religious beliefs? These are the key questions at the heart of our case for Melissa Klein, award-winning cake artist and owner of SweetCakes by Melissa. Former owner, that is—because the Oregon government decided to penalize her $135,000 and tell her she needed “rehabilitation” for simply running her family business according to her religious beliefs. Now, 7 years later—after being forced to close the shop and enduring violent death threats—she is still searching for justice, still waiting for the courts to finally recognize her constitutional right to stand by her faith as she runs her business.
Thankfully, Melissa’s case has received new hope in the form of support from the highest court in the land. In June of 2019, the Supreme Court sent the case back to Oregon officials with a clear message: Melissa Klein is “entitled to the neutral and respectful consideration of [her] claims in all the circumstances of the [Masterpiece] case.”
In other words, Melissa deserves the same protection from religious discrimination that was afforded to cake artist Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in his recent Supreme Court victory. Furthermore, the Supreme Court pointed out that “government has no role in deciding or even suggesting whether the religious grounds for a conscience-based objection are legitimate or illegitimate.”
After receiving this rebuke from the Supreme Court, the case returned to the Oregon Courts for re-examination. On January 20th this year at the Oregon Court of Appeals in Salem, First Liberty attorneys formally presented our oral argument as the key next step in determining whether Oregon government officials should be in the business of deciding when and where Melissa is free to exercise her religious beliefs.
Our position remains unchanged. “The government should not be in the business of deciding whose faith is or is not acceptable,” said Keisha Russell, Counsel to First Liberty Institute. “Government officials must remain neutral. When government decides whose faith is or is not acceptable, it discriminates against people of faith.”
Artistic expression—like her faith—has always been in Melissa’s DNA. As she puts it: “For me, it was so gratifying to know that I was contributing to the most important day in people’s lives, while at the same time doing what I loved most – creating art as a way of expressing my faith.”
Running her family bakery was much more than just a business to Melissa Klein. It was her passion, her artistic expression, a second home—and a legacy she and her husband even hoped to pass on to their 5 children. In her own words, it was a “dream come true.” And since the opening of SweetCakes by Melissa in 2007, Melissa had always been happy to serve everyone who entered her shop—she simply couldn’t endorse messages that conflicted with her faith.
When the State of Oregon decided that she was wrong for running her business according to her faith, that dream came to a crashing halt. “Having to shut down the shop was devastating,” said Melissa. “Watching something our family had worked so hard on for years to build just disappear in such a short time—it crushed me. I felt like I’d lost a part of myself.”
After 7 long years of zig-zagging through the court system, Melissa has finally received her recipe for success from the Supreme Court. So, what are the key ingredients that need to fall into place now? And how exactly did a kind-hearted mother of 5 who was simply following her faith in running her business become a target for hate, harassment, and violent death threats?
Find out the details by downloading your own copy of Melissa Klein’s Recipe for Success—complete with an exclusive recipe for Melissa’s famous Zesty Lemon Cupcakes!
For the Kleins, and for thousands of other faith-based small business owners, the implications of this case are immensely important. At stake is whether the government can force anyone in America to choose between their faith and their livelihood, and whether government officials have the legal authority to force Christian-owned businesses to close if the business declines to participate in an event that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The Constitution is quite clear. It requires government officials to abide by a strict standard of religious neutrality and respectful tolerance of the religious beliefs of Americans. As Justice Kennedy explained in the Supreme Court’s 2018 NIFLA decision: “Government must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief.”
But as we know, federal courts often have a way of contorting the Constitution to fit their own self-defined parameters. The question in this case is: will the Oregon Court of Appeals have the audacity to openly defy both the Constitution and the Supreme Court of the United States?
As Melissa and her family enter the homestretch of this 7-year journey, they need your support now more than ever to help them finish the fight.
They have remained remarkably strong throughout the process, in a true testament to the character of Melissa and her husband Aaron. As Melissa puts it: “Whenever I ask myself if I would do it all over again, the answer is always yes—yes I would. Standing firm by my beliefs, and living out those beliefs, is that important to me.”
To remain so steadfast in their commitment to their faith amidst such incredible hardship is an inspiring example to us all, whether you share her faith or not.
Please take a moment to write a message of encouragement for Melissa and her family today. We need to let this kind-hearted, hardworking mother of 5 know that her fellow Americans have her back in this fight.