A print shop in Lexington, Ky., shouldn’t be forced to produce LGBTQ Pride T-shirts because the message goes against the owner’s religious beliefs, his lawyer told the Kentucky Supreme Court Friday.
“The evidence is clear that Hands On Originals serves everyone — and just doesn’t print certain messages,” Joe Campbell, a lawyer with the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, told the court, according to Newsweek. “The First Amendment in this case cuts in Hands On Originals’ favor — [it] ensures that the government can’t use a law to force someone to print or convey a message that they find objectionable.”
Blaine Adamson, the co-owner and manager of Hands On Originals, refused to print a T-shirt for Lexington Pride’s fifth anniversary in 2012, citing his conservative Christian beliefs about sexuality and marriage. The city’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which runs Pride, filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, which found that the shop had violated a local ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations, as the business is a place of public accommodation.
That decision was overturned on appeal by the Fayette Circuit Court in 2015, with Judge James D. Ishmael Jr. writing that the shop’s refusal was based not on the identity of the customer but on the message the group wanted to convey. The owners of Hands On Originals had a clear constitutional right to decline to promote a message they disagreed with, he said. In 2017, the Kentucky Court of Appeals agreed, and the human rights commission then appealed to the state Supreme Court.
A lawyer for the human rights commission told the Supreme Court the refusal was clearly discriminatory, however. His statement came in answer to a question posed by Justice Michelle Keller about whether the shop’s argument could have been used to defend the anti-Catholic discrimination that was so common in 19th-century America.
“That would still be OK under this analysis, wouldn’t it? I mean that kind of overt discrimination between faiths?” she said, according to Newsweek. “As long as it is tied to the production of printed material.”
“If you buy the argument of Hands On Originals, they can do anything they want in the name of religion,” attorney Ed Dove responded.
Adamson defended his position at a press conference Friday. “I will work with any person, no matter who they are and no matter what their belief systems are,” he said. “But when I’m presented with a message that conflicts with my faith, that’s just something I cannot print, that’s the line for me. I don’t walk into my business every morning and leave my faith at the door.”
Adamson has declined other orders he found objectionable, “including shirts promoting a violent message and pens promoting a sexually explicit video,” according to the ADF. He also has said he’s printed T-shirts for a lesbian who performed at Lexington Pride, pointing to this as evidence that the shop doesn’t discriminate against LGBTQ people.
ADF has defended several other businesses accused of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, including Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in Colorado. Phillips’s case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which gave him a qualified victory by reversing the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s finding against him, saying the commission had shown insufficient respect for his religious beliefs. The court did not, however, approve a broad right to discriminate in the name of religious freedom.
It’s unknown when the Kentucky Supreme Court will issue its decision.