Despite risking the loss of all they own, Aaron and Melissa Klein, the Oregon bakers who were ordered to pay $135,000 for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, are continuing to obey God rather than man, taking their case before the Oregon Court of Appeals.
In an effort to win the ongoing legal battle against state officials, the couple is now represented by First Liberty - formerly known as the Liberty Institute, a conservative law firm that frequently engages in First Amendment cases.
"We're praying that the state of Oregon will back off," First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys told The Gospel Herald during a sit-down interview in Nashville, Tennessee, on Tuesday. "We're hoping the state will recognize the freedom of religion -- we're hoping that it can be restored, not just for us, but for everybody in this nation. We're going to continue to fight on."
The case dates back to 2013, when Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer filed a lawsuit against the Kleins and Sweet Cakes Bakery after the Christian duo refused to bake a cake for their wedding, citing their religious beliefs. Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries found the owners had violated anti-discrimination laws because their shop was not a registered religious institution, and ordered them to pay the couple $135,000 in damages.
"We wanted to honor God with our business, and dedicated everything to him," Aaron Klein told The Gospel Herald. "We believe in a Biblical definition of marriage, and we believe that we have the freedom of religion in this country."
In December 2015, the Kleins were forced to pay state-ordered damage fees and interest totaling $136,927.07. Much of the money came from the thousands of dollars that people contributed to their cause via crowdfunding sites like Samaritan's Purse.
"The government of Oregon cleaned out their bank account to penalize them without their permission, but that wasn't enough," Dys said. "Thankfully, they had a whole bunch of crowdfunding that came alongside them and they were able to pay the penalty that they had to pay in order to appeal this."
Melissa told The Gospel Herald that the ordeal has been tremendously taxing on the couple and their children: "It was definitely very shocking and definitely put a hardship on our family," she said. "It hasn't been easy at all, I lost my business that I love. We both worked so hard to build up the business and to just have it gone like that has been devastating. It's been three years and I've still been really struggling with it. It hasn't been easy at all."
Thanks to the prayers of thousands around the world and the help of First Liberty, the Kleins are scheduled to have their day in court before the Oregon Court of Appeals. Legal briefs are expected to be filed throughout the year, and oral argument will take place in late 2016.
Given all the pain they've endured, some may wonder why the Kleins don't simply give up. However, the couple explained that doing so is not an option, as the implications of their case extend far beyond them.
"This is something that is broader than just these two people," Dys warned. "If it can happen to Aaron and Melissa at a bakery shop, it can happen to anybody at any level of employment at any business. The government should never be the ones coercing individuals into believing something that they don't believe. Or, for that matter, punishing them for believing it. All of America suffers when someone loses their religious liberty."
Despite the persecution they've experienced over the past few years, Melissa said that she and her husband still love those responsible. In fact, last August, they sent custom-designed cakes to 11 LGBTQ organizations bearing the message "I Love You."
"We just wanted to show our love," Melissa said of the gesture. "That was the best way that we knew how -- we serve everybody. The couple that [sued us] we served previously in the shop and we'd serve them again."
Added Aaron, "The motivation was never to hurt anybody, the motivation was never to upset anybody. We don't have any hard feelings. The purpose of those cakes was to show that we love people regardless of how they identify and we wanted them to know that."
Regardless of what the future holds, the Kleins said that their faith has been strengthened by the entire ordeal, calling to mind the words found in Genesis 50:20: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good."
"Before I had the shop my trust in the Lord wasn't very good, and my faith, it was there, but it wasn't as concrete as it is now," Melissa said. "Going through this, God has shown up in ways that has blown us away and provided us with so many blessings. Seeing God work on a daily basis in our lives has been overwhelming and wonderful. That's the one blessing that has come out of this."
"It's a been a testimony to the Scripture that God's word is true," added Aaron. "He does what needs to be done. He's been good to us, he's taken care of us. It's strengthened my faith. He can deliver us from it, but if he doesn't, it's okay, too. We'll continue serving him, because the alternative is just out of the question -- it's not an option. We're going to continue following the Lord regardless of the consequences."