Oregon Bakers Lost Everything Before Even Going to Court, Now Their Voice Is Heard
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They've lost their business, been fined more than $135,000 and told they can't share their faith, all for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
"When we opened our bakery, we loved serving all customers, regardless of their identity or beliefs. My cakes were my canvas. I sketched and custom designed each cake to fit each couple perfectly, Melissa Klein told CBN News.
"My bakery wasn't just called 'Sweet Cakes Bakery.' It was 'Sweet Cakes by Melissa' because I poured out my passion and heart into each cake I made. My faith is a part of that. Even though I'd happily served this couple in the past for another event, I couldn't participate in a ceremony that violates my beliefs," she continued.
Here's the thing: Melissa Klein and her husband Aaron have never had an official day in court — until today.
Thursday, represented by First Liberty Institute, they appeared before the Oregon Court of Appeals.
First Liberty attorneys argued that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) violated the Kleins’ constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech, and due process.
“The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs,” Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, says. “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.”
A three-judge panel heard the appeal.
Watch the press conference with Melissa and Aaron Klein following their court appearance.
"In America, you're innocent until proven guilty," Shackelford said. "This is an egregious violation of the Kleins' rights to due process. We hope the Oregon Court of Appeals will remedy this by reversing or dismissing the government's case against the Klein's."
So, how is it that the Klein's have lost so much, before they ever had a chance to defend themselves in court? The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, a state administrative agency, took administrative action to punish the Kleins.
According to First Liberty, before even hearing the Klein's case, BOLI Commissioner Brad Avakian made multiple public comments on Facebook and in media interviews indicating that the Kleins "disobey(ed)" the law and needed "rehabilitation."
"For us to lose the bakery was really crushing," said Melissa Klein. "We worked so hard to build it up. We poured our heart into it. It was my passion. To have it taken away like that was really devastating."
"This case centers on one vitally important question: can the government force citizens to violate their conscience or their faith? The Constitution is clear — the government cannot force people to violate their religious beliefs. The First Amendment was written to prevent exactly that," said Shackelford.
"As kids, we were always taught that America is a melting pot where people with different beliefs can peacefully coexist without government interference. I have a strong faith in God, whom I love with all my heart. My whole life is dedicated to living for Him, in the best way that I know how. Although it hasn't been easy, this experience has taught us to trust God more than ever," said Klein.
CBN News reached out to First Liberty Institute for a statement on their hopes for today's court appearance and how they plan to proceed.
"Our team has put a lot of hard work into this case, and we are hopeful for a favorable outcome today. The facts and the law are on our side, and we are grateful that the Kleins finally have this first opportunity to have their case heard in a court of law. Every case is unique, and it's nearly impossible to predict the outcome of any case, but if we don't receive a favorable ruling from the court, we will evaluate all of our options at that time," First Liberty told us.
Our team also spoke with Tony Perkins with the Family Research Council about the Klein's case. "It’s not that they did not want to provide services to someone that was gay or lesbian. It’s that they didn’t want to be forced into providing their creative services for a wedding."Said Perkins
He continued, "they’ve sold to customers just as florists like Baronelle Stutzman, great lady who served everyone who came through the door but did not want to use her gifts, her creative gifts, to be a part of something that from a Christian standpoint is sacred, marriage…. Is there not space in our society for that?"
"That’s why we need an executive order from the President to address this immediately from a federal level, " said Perkins.
He added, "we need to continue to work at this at the state level because those issues in Oregon and Washington are state driven prosecutions… Our constitution makes very clear that it is not only for beliefs but exercise of those beliefs and that’s all we’re asking for and I do not believe as Christians we should settle for anything less.”
"America is supposed to be a place where the government can't force you to violate your religious beliefs or tell you what to believe. We feel like that is exactly what happened to us. We lost everything we worked so hard to build. Nobody in this country should ever have to go through what we've experienced. We just want to be able to live in a place where the government tolerates and accepts differences, and where we can continue to follow our faith. That's what America is supposed to be about," said Klein.
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