An Oregon couple who were forced to pay $135,000 after declining to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple had their first appearance before the Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday, as they continue to fight back against the massive judgement.
Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, are arguing that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries — the state agency responsible for discrimination claims — violated their religious liberty, due process and free speech, after forcing the bakers to pay $135,000 to the lesbian couple at the center of the dispute.
The Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries case was argued before a three-judge panel on Thursday, with conservative legal firm First Liberty Institute — which is representing the Kleins — arguing that the government “should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs,” according to a press release.
Problems for the Kleins first began in 2013 when they declined to bake a cake for Rachel Cryer-Bowman and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, citing their Christian stance on same-sex nuptials. After a complaint was waged by the same-sex couple, the state stepped in and awarded the massive sum of money, claiming the Kleins were guilty of discrimination.
Listen to the Kleins discuss their story on a past episode of “The Church Boys” podcast:
The Kleins have consistently pushed back against Oregon’s decision, officially filing the appeals case last year. The $135,000 judgement is currently sitting in an escrow account until legal proceedings conclude, as TheBlaze previously reported.
Melissa Klein delivered an emotional statement during a press conference that followed Thursday’s legal proceedings, explaining where she and her husband stand on the issue and why they first launched their beloved bakery, which has since closed down.
“When we opened our bakery, we loved serving all customers who came into the shop, regardless of their identity or beliefs. My cakes were my canvas,” she said. “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. My faith is a part of that.”
Klein said she was happy to serve the couple in the past and would have been happy to do so again, but added that she simply did not want to be compelled to participate in their wedding, which she said “goes against” her beliefs.
The baker went on to defend her belief that America should protect citizens’ religious liberties.
“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.” she said. “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. We lost everything we loved and worked so hard to build.”
Klein said no one should have to face what she and her family have endured, explaining that the loss of the business, which came after complaints and threats flooded in, was a truly difficult experience.
“We just want the government to tolerate and accept differences of opinion, so we can continue to follow our faith,” she said. “We hope that, even if people have different beliefs from us, that they will show each other tolerance and that we can peacefully live together and still follow our faith. That’s all we want.”
But Oregon Assistant Attorney General Carson Whitehead, arguing for the state, said before the court on Thursday that the Kleins were discriminating with their refusal to bake the wedding cake, calling the decision “enormously harmful, the Oregonian reported.
“It goes to the very essence of self,” he said.
Watch the Klein family’s press conference after Thursday’s proceedings:
Melissa and Aaron Klein had their day in court. The Oregon bakers, who were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding in 2013, made their case before the Oregon Court of Appeals this Thursday, March 2. They are holding a press conference immediately after the hearing.
Posted by The Oregonian on Thursday, March 2, 2017
As for the same-sex couple at the center of the case, they showed up in court on Thursday and, according to the Oregonian, continue to support the state’s stance on the matter.
“If we prevent this from happening to another couple, it feels worth it,” Laurel Bowman-Cryer told the outlet. “I don’t want a future where we have signs in the window saying, ‘you’re gay, you’re not allowed.'”
The Sweet Cakes by Melissa case is one of the many First Amendment battles to capture nationwide attention of late, with activists on both sides of the aisle continuing to debate over which rights trump: religious freedom or equal protection under the law. It’s a complicated legal conundrum, leading many eyes to turn to the Klein case to see what the future holds.
The Oregon Court of Appeals is expected to issue an opinion sometime in the next few months, though the exact timing is unclear.
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