- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2017

Christian bakers who lost their store and were fined $135,000 for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding brought their case before the Oregon Court of Appeals Thursday in an attempt to overturn the judgment.

Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, said they simply want the freedom to live by the tenets of their faith.

“We just want the government to tolerate and accept differences of opinion, so we can continue to follow our faith,” Mrs. Klein said at a press conference following hearing. “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.”

An administrative judge for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries found the couple guilty of discrimination for declining to bake a wedding cake for Rachel Cryer-Bowman and Laurel Bowman-Cryer in 2013.

The bakers were ordered to pay $135,000 for the mental and emotional damages they caused the lesbian couple.

Attorneys argued Thursday that the government violated the Kleins’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech, religious exercise and due process.

“The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs,” Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, which represents the Kleins, said in a statement. “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.”

It is illegal under Oregon law for businesses to refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation.

Ms. Cryer-Bowman bought a cake from Sweet Cakes by Melissa for another event several months before the Kleins declined to service her same-sex wedding. Mrs. Klein said she would “be happy to serve” the lesbian couple again in the future.

The Kleins, who have five children, closed down their storefront in 2013 after they were harassed and received threatening mail. They now run the bakery out of their house, and Mr. Klein became a garbage collector to make ends meet.

“We lost everything we loved and worked so hard to build,” Mrs. Klein said. “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.”

Brad Avakian, the Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner who ruled against the Kleins, made comments on social media criticizing the bakers before his decision.

He also ordered the bakers at the time to “cease and desist” from making public comments about their decision not to service the same-sex wedding.

​Attorneys for the Kleins say Mr. Avakian prejudged the case and denied the couple their right to due process.

Writing about the case on Facebook, Evangelist Franklin Graham said liberals preach coexistence except when it comes to Christians.

“​I​t seems that Christians are the ones that the liberal left doesn’t want to be allowed to coexist​,” Mr. Graham wrote.​

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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