By JOHN FORTMEYER
Although GoFundMe.com has shut down efforts to financially aid two Pacific Northwest Christian business owners who are in religious freedom battles, other funding sites are stepping up to fill the gap.
As reported last month in Christian News Northwest, when GoFundMe.com suddenly cut off the “Support Sweet Cakes by Melissa” site April 24 after more than $109,000 was raised in a matter of hours, evangelist Franklin Graham and his Samaritan’s Purse ministry quickly invited donations for bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein at www.samaritanspurse.org.
Then two days later, GoFundMe shut down a similar funding effort for Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., after it had raised more than $170,000 over two months.
Since then, two other web site operators have come forward to assist the Kleins as well:
•Faith-based, Wisconsin nonprofit Continue to Give on May 5 launched a crowdfunding web page for the Kleins.
•A new site, RallyBuilder.com, was launching in late May, and pledged that its first fundraising rally would support the Kleins. RallyBuilder is sponsored by Grassfire, an Iowa-based online conservative issues advocacy organization.
Continue to Give helps churches, ministries and nonprofits raise funds. Founder Jesse Wellhoefer told The Oregonian that he welcomed the opportunity to help the Kleins and was not dissuaded by the controversies surrounding them.
A statement on that site reads: “Let’s help the Kleins through this hard time as they fight for religious freedom; which they are not just fighting for themselves but for all of us as our freedoms are threatened …
“They are pioneers in standing strong for the Lord and have been very courageous and steadfast throughout this whole ordeal. Please, let’s rally around them to help ease the stress of everyday expenses and unexpected urgent needs.”
RallyBuilder, according to founder Eric Odom, has been created in response to efforts by existing crowdfunding platforms to quash “politically incorrect” causes.
The Kleins have been in the news both locally and nationally because they declined, because of their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage, to bake a wedding cake for a Portland lesbian couple.
A state administrative law judge has ruled that the Kleins illegally discriminated against the women because of their sexual orientation and recommended the Kleins pay $135,000 in damages for emotional suffering.
State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian has the final say on the penalty and is expected to issue an award for damages this summer.
A friend of the Kleins had established a GoFundMe account on April 24 to help the Kleins defray the cost, but the California-based funding site shut down the account later that day after several people complained that the campaign violated GoFundMe’s terms of service.
GoFundMe said the shutdown was justified because the Kleins had been found in violation of Oregon law, but that it would go ahead and release to the Kleins the money that had been raised.
Last month, GoFundMe clarified its policies, saying it will not allow campaigns that seek to help individuals or groups facing formal charges or claims of serious violations of the law.
Stutzman was fined $1,001 by the state for violating Washington’s Consumer Protection Act when she refused to sell flowers for a same-sex weddiing. Like the Kleins, she cited her Christian beliefs.
She received the fine in Benton County Superior Court in March. The court is yet to impose a separate monetary award for the gay couple, who have also filed suit against Stutzman.
Stutzman said the money raised to date will be held until the legal challenge is resolved and the final possible costs are determined.