- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2015

An Oregon commission proposed Friday levying a $135,000 hit against Aaron and Melissa Klein for refusing to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony based on their Christian beliefs.

Aaron and Melissa Klein, who are struggling to make ends meet after closing Sweet Cakes by Melissa in September 2013, received the 110-page proposed order Friday from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which ruled against the couple in February.

Mr. Klein said Friday the figure was “shocking” but not entirely unexpected. The commission has the authority to mete out awards for damages of up to $150,000.

“It’s very discouraging. This is not money coming from a business, this is not money coming from an insurance fund, this is money coming straight from our bank account,” Mr. Klein told the Family Research Council’s Craig James in a radio interview Friday.

“This is money that should be used to pay my mortgage, money that should be used to feed our kids, not something that should be given to others,” Mr. Klein said. “This is a decision I made because of my faith, and now the government is now saying it doesn’t matter, your kids can suffer for it as well.”

He noted that the monetary ruling is for emotional damages suffered by the same-sex couple, who filed a complaint against the Gresham bakery with the state in 2013.

“You have unsubstantiated emotional damages — that’s what this came down to,” Mr. Klein said. “There was never any physical or financial harm done to the plaintiffs. This was specifically to emotional damages. It takes a lot to explain where $135,000 comes from.”

In a press release, the bureau said that an administrative law judge had awarded $60,000 in damages to Laurel Bowman-Cryer and $75,000 in damages to Rachel Bowman-Cryer for “emotional suffering stemming directly from unlawful discrimination.”

“The amounts are damages related to the harm suffered by the Complainants, not fines or civil penalties which are punitive in nature,” said the release, adding that the proposed fines are “less than what was sought by administrative prosecutors,” who had sought the full $150,000.

The Kleins’ attorney, Anna Harmon, emphasized that the order is not final and that the Kleins have 10 days to ask for exceptions in order to reduce the amount. After the final order is issued by the labor commissioner, the couple would be able to move directly to the court of appeals, she said.

“We have a 10-day period where we can file exceptions to 110-page order and then wait for a final order from the commissioner,” Ms. Harmon told FRC radio. “Then we’ll work at getting a different judge to respect the constitutional rights that are guaranteed in the First Amendment. Aaron and Melissa have the absolute right not to be forced to speak, not to be forced to engage in an event or create art if they don’t want to do that.”

Leaders of Basic Rights Oregon, a gay-rights advocacy group, applauded the proposed order, saying it sends a message that religious beliefs cannot be used to justify discrimination against same-sex couples.

“This case struck a chord with many Oregonians because allowing businesses to deny goods and services to people because of who they are and whom they love is hurtful and wrong,” said Jeana Frazzini, Basic Rights Oregon’s co-director, in a statement.

Meanwhile, FRC president Tony Perkins called the order “an egregious assault on the freedom Americans have to peaceably live their lives according to their beliefs.”

Like Jack Phillips, owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, the Kleins have said that they regularly served gay customers at their shop, but objected to creating a wedding cake for a same-sex couple for religious reasons.

Mr. Phillips is appealing an order against his bakery levied last year by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

During Friday’s radio interview, a tearful Ms. Klein said the couple’s five children have offered to sell cakes and brownies to help the family make ends meet. While their bakery is closed, the Kleins continue to sell baked goods from their home in Sandy.

“It’s been a really hard two years — sorry, I don’t mean to be emotional — but it’s definitely been trying for us too,” Ms. Klein said. “It’s been hard on our kids, it’s been hard on us, but God’s been good and He has been keeping us strong.”

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