SALEM, Ore. (BP) — Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein took their religious liberty fight to court March 2 after they were penalized for refusing business for a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.
First Liberty Institute defended the Kleins before a three-judge panel in the Oregon Court of Appeals, promoting the couple’s constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech and due process in a court session webcast online.
Kelly Shackelford, First Liberty president and CEO, said after the proceedings that he hopes the court upholds the couples’ free speech and religious liberty in a ruling expected within the coming months in the case, Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI).
“The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs,” Shackelford said in a press release. “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs.”
The Kleins had operated Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham until an Oregon administrative law judge fined them $135,000 in April 2015, saying they violated the civil rights of Laurel Bowman and Rachel Cryer by refusing to design for them a custom cake two years earlier.
Cakes created by the bakery were works of art inspired from the heart and should be protected as religious expression, Melissa Klein said in a press conference following the court session.
“My cakes were my canvas. I sketched and custom designed each one to fit each couple perfectly. My bakery wasn’t just called ‘Sweet Cakes Bakery,’ it was ‘Sweet Cakes by Melissa’ because I pour my passion and heart into each cake I make,” she said. “My faith is a part of that. I was happy to serve this couple in the past for another event and I would be happy to serve them again, but I couldn’t participate in a ceremony that goes against what I believe.”
In America, Klein said, the government should tolerate and accept differences of opinion and empower followers of different religious beliefs to peacefully coexist.
“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,” she said. “We lost everything we loved and worked so hard to build. I loved my shop — it meant everything to me. And losing it has been so hard for me and my family. Nobody in this country should ever have to go through what we’ve experienced.”
The Kleins paid BOLI $136,927.07 in December 2015 with money contributed through a crowdfunding page. Weeks earlier, the Oregon labor commissioner had seized their personal bank accounts which totaled nearly $7,000. In total, the Kleins have paid nearly $144,000 and may be due a refund.
The Kleins had asked the state to postpone collecting the fine, upheld on appeal in July 2015, while they continued the appeal process, but the request was twice denied.
If the court allows the final order against the Kleins to stand, First Liberty has said, the ruling will approve governmental authority to force artists to celebrate causes that violate their conscience.
“Should the government force Catholics to sculpt totems for Wiccan rituals, or feminists to photograph fraternity initiations, or pro-life videographers to film an abortion? Of course not,” Shackelford has said. “No one should be forced to contribute to the celebration of an idea that goes against his or her beliefs.”