23 Feb 2016
Today, First Liberty Institute announced that, along with one of the most famous lawyers in America, it is now representing Aaron and Melissa Klein, the Oregon bakers who owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa—the bakery destroyed by the Oregon government because its Christian owners declined to bake a wedding cake celebrating same-sex marriage—and intends to take the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
In 2013, the Kleins were asked by a lesbian woman to bake a cake celebrating her marriage to another woman, even though same-sex marriage was not even legal in Oregon at the time.
The Kleins had many customers who are homosexual and were happy to sell them cakes and other baked goods, but do not make specialized cakes for same-sex weddings because they individualize each wedding cake to support and celebrate the marriage. The Kleins are Evangelical Christians who believe that marriage is only between a man and woman, and who run their business consistent with their faith as part of their Christian testimony and personal ministry to the community.
The Oregon government pursued the Kleins for two years. On July 2, 2015, Commissioner Brad Avakian, the head of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 to the women as a penalty for what he called the “emotional damages” of offending the women by declining to bake the cake for their non-legal “wedding.”
BOLI also imposed a gag order on the Kleins, telling them that they cannot say that they would decline to bake a same-sex wedding cake in the future, because BOLI contends this would be a form of “advertisement” that the bakers intended to “discriminate” against people on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Kleins informed Oregon that they wanted to appeal this ruling because it violated their First Amendment right to free speech to require them to give a message endorsing same-sex marriage, as well as their right to free exercise of their religion to run their privately owned company consistent with their religious beliefs.
After the Kleins shared this information with BOLI, the government seized the money in the Kleins’ bank accounts. That was not nearly enough to satisfy the judgment. Thousands of Christians across the nation sent small gifts to assist the Kleins, who then handed that money to the government to be set aside in an escrow-type account so that their appeal could move forward.
During this time First Liberty came to assist the Kleins, representing them entirely free of charge, and are taking the Kleins’ case to the Oregon Court of Appeals. The legal team will be led by Ambassador Boyden Gray, a former law clerk to the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who later became White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1992, and then served as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
“America is a great nation because we celebrate diversity of thought,” Ambassador Gray said in a statement to Breitbart News. “Our right to free expression and religious liberty are some of our most cherished American freedoms. We must safeguard these rights for every American—including Aaron and Melissa Klein.”
“The past three years have been devastating,” Melissa Klein adds in the statement. “Just because we couldn’t participate in an event that violates our religious beliefs, we lost our business. We were committed to serving everyone, regardless of their circumstances, at all other times.”
“The government should never force people to violate their conscience or celebrate causes they don’t believe in,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and chief executive officer of First Liberty Institute. “As the Kleins’ new appellate team, we are committed to fighting for their First Amendment freedoms of religious liberty and free expression.”
Legal briefs will be filed over the next several months, and the Oregon Court of Appeals is expected to hear oral arguments in the Kleins’ appeal in late 2016. The lawyers add that there is a significant chance that this case may finally end up before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Information on the case is available at FirstLiberty.org/Kleins.