The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a print shop owner’s right to run his business consistently with his faith, after a seven-year battle over his refusal to print a gay pride T-shirt.
The case began in 2012 when Hands On Originals, a printing company in Lexington, Kentucky, was asked by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington to design shirts to promote the city’s local pride festival.
Blaine Adamson, the company’s owner, declined the request, deciding that printing shirts with that message would be in contradiction to his faith.
Lexington’s Human Rights Commission sued for discrimination.
Before the case made it to the Kentucky Supreme Court, two lower courts ruled in favor of Adamson, according to Fox News.
The Kentucky high court ruling drew a distinction between declining to produce a product and individual discrimination.
The court said the organization filing the suit lacked the standing to sue under the law because the law was designed to protect individuals from discrimination.
“While this result is no doubt disappointing to many interested in this case and its potential outcome, the fact that the wrong party filed the complaint makes the discrimination analysis almost impossible to conduct, including issues related to freedom of expression and religion,” Justice Laurance VanMeter wrote in the majority ruling.
The court said it was impossible to determine if anyone was harmed.
“[I]n this case, because an ‘individual’ did not file the claim, but rather an organization did, we would have to determine whether the organization is a member of the protected class, which we find impossible to ascertain. No end user may have been denied the service who is a member of the protected class, or perhaps one was,” the majority opinion said.
Justice David Buckingham filed a concurring opinion, stating that the Lexington Human Rights Commission “had gone beyond its charge of preventing discrimination in public accommodation and instead attempted to compel Hands On to engage in expression with which it disagreed.”
Buckingham said Hands On Originals did not single out the gay pride shirt.
“Hands On has an established practice of declining orders because of what Hands On perceives to be their morally-objectionable messages, no matter who requested them,” he wrote.
“In the two years preceding the hearing in this case, Hands On declined thirteen orders on the basis that it believed the designs to be offensive or inappropriate, including refusal to print shirts promoting adult entertainment establishments, pens promoting a sexually explicit video, and shirts containing a violence-related message.”
Buckingham also noted that “Hands On accepted and completed an order from a lesbian singer who performed at the 2012 Pride Festival.”
Furrther, “at no time did Hands On inquire or know the sexual orientation or gender identity of the persons with whom it dealt on behalf of GLSO. These facts indicate that Hands On was in good faith objecting to the message it was being asked to disseminate.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, the non-profit legal organization defending Adamson, said the ruling confirmed what was true from the start.
“Today’s decision makes clear that this case never should have happened. For more than seven years, government officials used this case to turn Blaine’s life upside down, even though we told them from the beginning that the lawsuit didn’t comply with the city’s own legal requirements,” ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell said.
“The First Amendment protects Blaine’s right to continue serving all people while declining to print messages that violate his faith. Justice David Buckingham recognized this in his concurring opinion, and no member of the court disagreed with that,” he said.
“The commission wasted taxpayer dollars and judicial resources by pressing this complaint in the first place and then appealing it all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court,” said attorney Bryan Beauman of Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PLLC, who worked with ADF on the case.
“We hope that going forward the commission will respect the free speech rights of its citizens.”
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