After months of stress, Oregon’s young bakers are turning up the heat on someone else: state officials.
Aaron and Melissa Klein, who became the face of America’s religious liberty debate when they turned down a cake order for a same-sex wedding, have spent the last two years trying to make ends meet after losing their business.
Staring down a $135,000 fine for exercising their beliefs, the couple is doing everything they can to hold their life together for their five kids.
Now, thanks to emails uncovered by the Daily Signal, the Kleins might finally have the break they’ve been waiting for. It turns out that there is prejudice in Aaron and Melissa’s case — but not from the Kleins.
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While the state was busy accusing Aaron and Melissa of bias, emails suggest their agencies were full of it.
In emails, text messages, phone calls, and other documents, Daily Signal found a shocking amount of coordination between the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and the largest LGBT activist group in the state: Basic Rights Oregon (BRO).
In particular, Commissioner Brad Avakian, who oversaw the Kleins’ case and their subsequent $135,000 punishment, held a string of closed door meetings with BRO leading up to Sweet Cakes’s judgment.
“That’s a clear conflict of interest,” fumed Hans von Spakovsky, the Heritage Foundation’s Senior Legal Fellow.
In fact, there was so much communication between the two entities that the brother of one of the plaintiffs actually mentioned it at the February hearing. That raised the eyebrows of several people — including the Kleins’ attorney, Anna Harmon.
There were already plenty of concerns about the commissioner, who was an open ally of LGBT activists in Oregon — going so far as to buy tickets to gay pride events, galas, and other fundraisers. Then, when the Kleins’ story broke in 2013, Avakian blasted the couple in a Facebook post — before ever seeing any evidence!
From the very beginning, Aaron and Melissa were guilty until proven innocent. Concerned that her clients weren’t getting a fair shake, Harmon asked for an investigation. Her request was denied.
“Any such collusion would show that the decision maker in this case was not neutral, and the State of Oregon would have violated the Kleins’ fundamental constitutional right to due process of law,” she protested. “We have a right to know what went on, and we’re asking the ALJ [administrative law judge] to allow us to find out.”
Thanks to the Heritage Foundation, some of those records are finally public. And while the Bureau insists it’s “committed to fair enforcement” of the state’s anti-discrimination policy, emails show that it’s anything but.
BRO was given exclusive access to the government’s media strategies, heads-up on breaking news on the case, in-person meetings about Sweet Cakes’s case, and even behind-the-scenes talking points. (To read some of the exchanges, click over to the Daily Signal.)
At one point, the LGBT group flagged just how important Commissioner Avakian’s position on Sweet Cakes would be to the broader movement. “His voice is really important as a coalition partner,” wrote one employee.
Unfortunately, the roots of the relationship run deep. The LGBT organization donated $8,000 to Avakian’s election — and their investment is certainly paying off. Among other things, Commissioner Avakian hand-picked the administrative judge who handed down the $135,000 punishment and, not so ironically, will be the one responsible for certifying that punishment this month.
It’s not enough that the Kleins have suffered personally and professionally.
Now their fate is in the hands of a man who cares more about his agenda than adjudication.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.