The Oregon Court of Appeals heard oral arguments March 2 in the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, who lost their bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, because they wanted to run their business according to their Christian faith.
The Kleins’ attorneys argued that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) violated the Kleins’ rights to religious freedom, free speech and due process. In 2013, the Kleins declined to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. They had served the customer previously, but they felt that participating in the wedding would violate their Biblical belief that marriage is to be between one man and one woman.
BOLI punished them with a $135,000 penalty and issued a gag order forbidding them from discussing aspects of their faith in public. As a result, the Kleins were forced to shut down their bakery.
The issues of religious liberty and free speech in the Kleins’ case share similarities with cases such as that of Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman. But the Kleins’ case also involves due process, as a government bureaucrat—BOLI Commissioner Brad Avakian—took it upon himself to declare the Kleins guilty and to levy a crippling fine.
“For a government agency to engage in these heavy-handed tactics and to penalize this family … without them ever having their day in court, that really is an egregious violation of due process,” said Mike Berry, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, which represents the Kleins.
At a press conference outside the Oregon Supreme Court Building after the March 2 hearing, the Kleins continued to stand unapologetically for their faith.
“America is a place where the government can’t force you to violate your religious beliefs or tell you what to believe, but we feel like that is exactly what happened to us,” Melissa Klein said. “Nobody in this country should ever have to go through what we’ve experienced.”
Aaron Klein added: “I’m thankful we actually got to have our day in court. This is the first time we’ve been in a court where due process was recognized, where we actually feel like the Constitution was recognized.”
Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, said in a statement: “The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs. In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We hope the court will uphold the Kleins’ rights to free speech and religious liberty.”
There is no specific timeline for the Oregon Court of Appeals to act on this case, but a decision is expected in the coming months.