July-August 2015 – In September 2013, Aaron and Melissa Klein suddenly found their livelihood threatened after Aaron respectfully responded to a customer, “I’m sorry, we don’t do cakes for same sex marriage ceremonies.” Angry at his response, homosexual activists launched an effort to destroy their family business. Sweet Cakes by Melissa closed. The couple now faces an estimated $135,000 in fines.
“We never anticipated this coming,” Melissa Klein, co-owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, of Gresham, Oregon, told AFA Journal. “We opened our shop and did business to make a living and take care of our kids. Then all of a sudden this happened – it just came out of nowhere.”
An ordinary family living the American dream, Aaron and Melissa were yanked into a windstorm of controversy that involved America’s first liberty – freedom of religion.
Melissa and Aaron started dating in high school. Although both had been exposed to the teachings of Scripture at varying levels, they were rebellious teens. “I was a prodigal son through the high school years,” said Aaron. “I just wasn’t putting what I was learning into practice. The adolescent mind seems to prefer the excitement of sin and disobedience.”
Melissa became pregnant at age 17, and they married. After their daughter was born, something changed. “Just out of the blue, I started getting interested in the Bible, and I started asking questions,” she said.
The couple began to attend church on occasion, but for several years, their hearts and minds remained divided. “It wasn’t until my early to mid-20’s that I began to break down,” said Aaron. “I got saved and baptized when I was about 24.”
“I finally gave my heart to the Lord because I started realizing my need for Him,” Melissa explained. “We weren’t perfect. We still did things that weren’t right, but we were learning and growing in our faith.”
As their love for the Lord and His Word grew, their life together prospered. Four more children were added to their quiver, and they opened the doors of a small local bakery – their dream was taking shape.
Within two years of opening Sweet Cakes, a woman asked Melissa to bake a cake for a same sex wedding. “I was so nervous because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings,” she said. “But I wanted to be honest and share my reasoning why I could not participate in that type of an event.” Melissa prayed and received counsel from her pastor before declining with an explanation about her faith and convictions. In the end, the woman expressed appreciation for Melissa’s honesty and kindness.
“We had a couple of other people inquire [about same sex ceremonies], and nothing ever came of it until this,” she said. “So when we got the notice in the mail that we were being investigated, it was definitely a shock.”
The two young ladies who filed the complaint were not strangers to the bakery. “We had done cakes for them and other homosexuals before.” explained Aaron. “The difference quite honestly is that these two girls wanted to get married. And we don’t agree with that. It has nothing to do with the people – it’s all about the event. If they wanted a birthday cake right now, I would have no problem making it for them.
“First Timothy 5:22 says not to take part in another man’s sin. That’s something we are supposed to be wary of. I believe God’s word is inerrant. It is truth, and we are called to live by it. I don’t believe it’s open to interpretation – to make it mean what we want it to mean. I believe it’s to convict us. It’s not something that is easy to live by. But sin is wrong, and we are supposed to deny ourselves and follow Christ.”
Alan McCullough, the Administrative Law Court judge who proposed the $135,000 fine, is not held to the standards of the judicial branch of government. Rather, he is an agency employee who reports to Commissioner Brad Avakian of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry, a known homosexual activist who is the final decision maker in the case. A number of communications have been uncovered evidencing multiple meetings during the trial process between Avakian and Basic Rights Oregon, a gay rights activist group that actively spoke out against the Kleins.
In addition, no expert witnesses were interviewed to verify the exhaustive list of traumatic consequences the two women claimed to have suffered after their cake request was declined.
At press time, Commissioner Avakian was scheduled to make a final and unilateral decision concerning the exact amount of the fine by mid-summer, about the same time the U.S. Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage is expected. “The commissioner might say we need to be fined $500,000 instead of $135,000,” said Aaron. “He is the judge, jury, and executioner in this situation.”
“The government is set up to protect our religious freedom,” said Aaron. “And now they’re persecuting us for exercising that right – that’s scary. This situation doesn’t just apply to us. It applies to homosexuals. It applies to Muslims. At the end of it all, every American should be free to live and work by their faith without persecution from the government.”
The Kleins will have 60 days to file their appeal to the Oregon State Court of Appeals, a process estimated to take about a year. In the meantime, they will request an injunction to protect themselves from fines and interest required by the Bureau of Labor and Industry. But there is no guarantee it will be granted.
“They can require a bond, they can put everything on hold, or they can say we have to pay the full amount within 24 hours in order to appeal it,” explained Aaron. “There is so much that is up in the air about this, especially when you are dealing with an entity that has no hard and fast rules. It’s not a court. It’s where the state goes when they want to circumvent the Constitution.”
In the face of a changing cultural tide crashing on the shores of the free and the brave, the Kleins represent a growing number of U.S. Christians facing persecution. “It’s definitely hard to go through,” said Melissa. “But if you want to see God move, stand strong for Him. It has been an extreme boost in our trust in the Lord. We’ve learned that when you choose to stand for God, the amount of blessing you see overpowers the negativity. I definitely feel a lot stronger about not only fighting for my religious freedom, but also fighting for everyone else’s.”
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