In a shocking strong-arm tactic, the state of Oregon fined Christian cake designers Aaron and Melissa Klein out of business.
The “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” owners were slapped with a fine of $135,000 for turning down a demand to design an cake celebrating lesbianism. The two passed on the idea because they said it’s against their religious beliefs — and were sued.
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They were swiftly punished by the government for not being “politically correct” enough.
The Oregon government’s financial penalty for the Christian bakery shop has bankrupted the Kleins. They were forced to shut down their business, and have endured over five years of bank-breaking legal fights.
They also have been the target of hate speech. Facebook allowed messages to the Kleins like, “I hope your shop burns.” Social media users told Aaron and Melissa that they “will burn in Hell,” and are nothing but a “stupid piece of s-—.”
“F—- both of you, you homophobic trash,” another liberal wrote. “I hope you lose your house and have to live on the streets and that gay people point and laugh at you.”
One woman stated, “We hope your children get cancer and die … You are worthless.”
When the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries fined the Kleins, government officials made comments denigrating the Christian view of marriage. The state bureau even went so far as to issue a censoring gag order, commanding Aaron and Melissa never to speak their beliefs on marriage.
The Oregon Court of Appeals later rescinded the gag order but kept the decision against the Kleins and its back-breaking fine. Aaron and Melissa then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now the Attorneys General from eleven states have petitioned the Supreme Court to take on the case and defend the First Amendment freedom of speech and religious practice.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the CATO Institute, and a host of other national organizations have joined the “friend-of-the-court” brief by the Attorneys General of Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
“Government power to order individuals to speak in a manner that violates their conscience is fundamentally at odds with the (Constitutional) freedom of expression,” the state Attorneys General argue.
Their petition adds that forcing Christians to promote government-approved messages against their sincerely held beliefs denies the “tolerance for a diversity of viewpoints that this Nation has long enjoyed and promoted.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, wrote that businesses “should be allowed to choose what they will or will not create without fear of being unjustly threatened or pressured by the government.”
Paxton has defended religious freedom before, leading a group of 20 states standing up for a Colorado baker, and a Washington state florist.
First Liberty Institute, which represents the Kleins, says it is a clear case of the government forcing business owners to betray their faith.
“Free Americans should not be compelled by the government to create a message that conflicts with their deepest convictions,” Chris Freund of First Liberty Institute explained. “Because of their religious convictions, the Kleins declined to design and create a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage.”
First Liberty President Kelly Shackelford said American business owners are asking “whether the government can prescribe what they believe and force them to confess accordingly.”
Shackelford added that “the fundamental question” in this case is “whether they may operate in accord with their deeply held convictions or be forced to abandon their First Amendment rights when they enter the marketplace.”
“The Supreme Court needs to clarify whether the government can compel the speech of American businesses,” Shackelford summarized. “Freedom of speech has always included the freedom not to speak the government’s message.”
“People in America have different beliefs about same-sex marriage, but one thing all Americans should be able to agree on is that people have a right to hold different beliefs on the topic,” Shackelford reasoned. “The forced shut down of Sweet Cakes by Melissa was directly attributable to government censorship of speech.”
Not all is lost for the Kleins. Some of the justices on the Supreme Court have already stated their agreement with this principle.
Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch wrote, “It is in protecting unpopular religious beliefs that we prove this country’s commitment to serving as a refuge for religious freedom” (Masterpiece Cakeshop).
Justice Anthony Kennedy noted, “Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief” (NIFLA v. Becerra).
“We tell our children that here in a free country if you work hard there is no limit to what you can achieve. But try telling that to the children of Aaron and Melissa Klein,” Shackelford pointedly commented.
“The Kleins’ American dream was turned into a nightmare when the very government they trusted to protect their rights did the opposite, forcing them to choose between speaking the government’s preferred message or losing everything they worked so hard to build.”
“Freedom of expression, as protected by the First Amendment, doesn’t only secure the ability to say what you wish. It also prevents the government from compelling you to say something you don’t agree with” the CATO Institute opined. “To live according to one’s own conscience is the foundational principle of a free society.”
In other words, the court is being asked, “Which is it: Government-forced speech, or individual freedom of speech and religion?”
— Father Mark Hodges is a reporter for The Horn News.