The Kleins owned a bakery called “Sweet Cakes by Melissa,” which specialized in custom-designed cakes, including weddings cakes. The Kleins created wedding cakes, in part, to celebrate marriages, which their faith taught them to view as the sacred union of one man and one woman. They were happy to serve everyone who entered the shop but would not create any cakes with messages that conflicted with their faith. This included cakes with profanity, cakes celebrating divorce, and cakes advocating harm to others. The Kleins were asked to make a custom-designed wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding. They declined to create that cake because they believed that creating a cake to celebrate the same-sex wedding would send a message of support for the wedding in violation of their faith.
A complaint was filed with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). BOLI found that the Kleins – in declining to design and create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage – had violated Oregon’s public accommodations statute and imposed a $135,000 damage award and a gag order against the Kleins. The commissioner overseeing the Kleins’ case – the one who issued the punishment against the Kleins – made statements online and in media interviews that clearly indicated his bias against them. He accused the Kleins of using religion as “an excuse” for their actions and said they needed to “learn from [the] experience” and be “rehabilitate[d].”
Following a series of appeals, in 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court returned the case to Oregon for further consideration in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which held that government officials cannot be hostile to the free exercise of the religious beliefs of its citizens. On remand, the Oregon Court of Appeals concluded that BOLI had violated the Free Exercise Clause and had not acted neutrally toward the Klein’s religion. The court struck down the $135,000 damages award because of the Free Exercise violation but still contended the Kleins had violated the Oregon public accommodations law and sent the case back to the same biased Oregon commission for further proceedings. In July 2022, without ordering a new hearing, the commission reduced the damage award from $135,000 to $30,000.
The Kleins again appealed to U.S. Supreme Court, this time arguing that the commission violated the Kleins’ constitutional rights by failing to provide them with due process and by trying to force them to create art that violates their religious beliefs. On the writ of certiorari, CLS’ Center for Law & Religious Freedom submitted an amicus brief in support of the Kleins. In the brief, the Center urged the Court to take the case and use it as an opportunity to overrule Employment Division v. Smith, a case in which the Court effectively eliminated the constitutional right to exercise religion, replacing religious freedom promised by the Free Exercise Clause with equal protection.