Aaron and Melissa Klein are two of the people who can best relate to Jack Phillips, the man who recently won his first, and most significant, battle against a state that sought to prioritize anti-discrimination laws over his First Amendment religious liberty.
Only they have yet to experience the vindication that Phillips has.
“Like Jack, we know what it is like to be treated unfairly by a state agency and mocked, threatened, and abused by critics. We can only imagine the relief Jack is experiencing.”
They look forward to the day when they may be able to feel the same relief.
“At the same time, we wonder what the future holds for our case, our lost business, and our family. Ours may be, as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, the case that allows ‘further elaboration in the courts.’ And we are encouraged to know that seven justices of the Supreme Court agree that a state’s hostility to the religious beliefs of its citizens will not be tolerated under the First Amendment.”
They explain that there are many similarities between their case and Phillips’, including the fact that the commissioner that they stood before, Brad Avakian, commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry at the time, showed incredible hostility towards their religious beliefs.
If you are unfamiliar with the recent supreme court ruling of Phillips’ case, the Justices did not, as many had hoped, side with him because of his First Amendment right to discriminate based on his religious beliefs. This is what Kennedy referred to as needing to be determined further down the road.
The ruling was, however, based on the fact that the Colorado Human Rights Commission, who had previously ruled against Philips, had shown distinct hostility towards his faith, which is also a blatant violation of his First Amendment rights.
This is also exactly what the Kleins’ experienced.
“At one point, before we had even had our day in court,” they explain, Avakian told the media, ‘Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that folks have the right to discriminate.’ He also went on Facebook to advocate ‘one set of rules,’ saying ‘Everyone has a right to their religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean they can disobey laws already in place.'”
“The Oregon Constitution allows religious exemptions from laws that are generally applicable, but Avakian ruled that out from the very beginning. Can he really be presumed to be fair and neutral when he said our business was unlawfully discriminating before he had even heard our case?”
This clear deprivation of a fair trial is not all the Kleins were subject to. They were also slapped with a $135,000 fine for the “emotional damages” experienced by the same-sex couple for whom they politely declined to bake a cake. This means that while the lesbian couple had to find somewhere else to buy a cake, the Kleins lost their entire business and livelihood.
And that’s not all.
“Beyond that…our vehicles were vandalized, our home was broken into, and we have received more death threats than we care to count,” they explain.
Is anyone being fined upwards of $100,000 for this emotional damage?!
“We recognize that good people will disagree with each other from time to time, but we agree with Kennedy that, whether before a state agency or in the court of public opinion, ‘these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs,'” they graciously conclude.
“For now, we wait and hope that, like Jack, one day a court will correct the religious hostility we suffered at the hands of Avakian and recognize, as Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his concurring opinion, ‘[t]he Constitution protects not just popular religious exercises from the condemnation of civil authorities. It protects them all.'”
Amen to that. Praying the Kleins, and business owners of faith across the US, will soon have their day in court and that the First Amendment will be maintained fully.