Aaron and Melissa Klein, the Christian couple who were ordered to pay $135,000 in damages for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, have said their lives are "dedicated" to serving God and obeying His commands - whatever the cost.
On Thursday, the Oregon Court of Appeals heard the case of the couple, who lost their business - Sweet Cakes By Melissa - as a result of their beliefs. In a statement made available to The Gospel Herald following the hearing, Melissa said her faith hasn't wavered despite the persecution her family continues to experience.
"I have a strong faith in God, whom I love with all my heart," she said. "My whole life is dedicated to living for Him, in the best way that I know how. 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. 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."
She added, "We just want the government to tolerate and accept differences of opinion, so we can continue to follow our faith. 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. Thank you."
As reported, the Kleins declined to make a cake for a same-sex couple's wedding, citing their religious beliefs, back in 2013. In July 2015, a judge ruled that the Kleins had discriminated against a lesbian couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, on the basis of their sexual orientation. The Kleins were then ordered to pay the lesbian couple a whopping $135,000 for physical, emotional, and mental damages, forcing the couple to close their bakery
During the oral arguments presented before a three-judge panel on Thursday, the Kleins' attorneys argued that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) violated the Kleins' constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech, and due process. First Liberty Institute, a national religious freedom law firm, represents the Kleins in their appeal along with former President George H. W. Bush White House Counsel Boyden Gray.
"The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs," said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute. "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."
Melissa explained that she and her husband had served the Bowman-Cryers before, but could not assist with their wedding due to their belief in traditional marriage.
"When we opened our bakery, we loved serving all customers who came into the shop, regardless of their identity or beliefs," Melissa said. "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. 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."
The Oregon Court of Appeals will issue an opinion on the case in the coming months, according to First Liberty, and there is no specific timeline for them to issue a decision.