PORTLAND, Ore. – Two years after Oregon Christian bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein refused to make a lesbian wedding cake, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa are facing threats, heavy fines, and the loss of their constitutional rights.
With the deadline to pay a $135,000 fine having passed, the state is now threatening to place a lien on couple’s home until it’s is paid.
CBN News traveled to Oregon to find out the next step for the Klein family.
An Ordinary Day
According to Aaron Klein, the day the lesbian bride-to-be came in to place her wedding cake order was like any other.
“Usual day, she came in. I had some cake for her to try; I asked her for the bride and groom’s name,” he recalled.
“At that point she told me it was two brides, and I was apologetic,” he continued. “I said, ‘I’m sorry; we can’t do this. I did not mean to waste your time and she got up and walked out. That was the extent of the encounter.”
A few weeks later, the Kleins faced a civil complaint for failing to provide the couple equal service in a place of public accommodation – a citation equal to a traffic violation in the state.
“We were of the mindset that we were fully within our rights,” Aaron Klein said. “You know, everyone believes that adage that we reserve the right to refuse business for any reason.”
The couple originally sought just $400, the price of one of Melissa’s custom cakes.
But Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian decided they deserved more, awarding them $135,000 in emotional damages. He then ordered the Kleins to “cease and desist” from openly professing that they won’t serve gay weddings because of their Christian beliefs.
First Amendment at Stake
Since then, the Kleins’ had to close their business and spend two years fighting to protect their religious liberty. Now their freedom of speech is at stake.
“It’s First Amendment, free speech,” Aaron said. “You’re looking at a government agency telling a private citizen what they can and cannot say. This should scare every American.”
“I’m shocked at the fact that I wasn’t even charged and I’m being told I have to be silent, and to me I don’t understand that,” Aaron’s wife Melissa told CBN News.
“I don’t see how somebody can tell me that I have to be quiet, and frankly I’m not going to be quiet about my faith,” she said.
Hans Von Spakovsky, with The Heritage Foundation, said the Kleins could seek legal action against Commissioner Avakian for his clear prejudices in their case.
“I actually think they have a potential civil rights case against Avakian,” Von Spakovsky said. “He clearly has acted in a very biased, prejudiced manner. He’s acted as judge, jury, and executioner in this case and has acted punitively against them.”
A Message of Intimidation?
Von Spakovsky also said he believes the ruling is intended to intimidate other Christians.
“I think the churches should be getting behind the Kleins, but I have no doubt they’re not saying anything about this because the clear intent of the state of Oregon and commissioner Avakian is to intimidate the Christian community,” he told CBN News.
“That’s why he’s imposed this huge punishment on the Kleins, and its very clear that intimidation is working,” he concluded.
Aaron and Melissa have seen mixed support from Christians in Portland.
“Even the churches, and I’m not saying all of them, but a percentage of the churches have said basically they’ve made this mess and they’re on their own,” Von Spakovsky said.
But Michael Gurney, a professor at Portland’s Multnomah University, sees this mixed reaction as generational.
“I think for the younger generation, they don’t understand why Christians would refuse. For them, it’s just not that they see it as the act of baking a cake as endorsing; it’s a matter of equality,” Gurney explained.
“I think we’re going to see more and more of this encroachment on religious liberties and I think we have to really be prepared for that,” he warned.
Despite the hardships and long road ahead, the Kleins remain confident God will see them through.
“For me personally, I mean it’s weird to say, but it’s been an amazing experience,” Melissa told CBN News. “I’ve learned so much through all this. God has taught me to trust Him.”