LEXINGTON, Ky. — In the first decision of its kind upholding the rights of a Christian business, an appeals court has ruled that a Christian t-shirt company did not violate the law when it declined to print t-shirts for a local “gay pride” event.
As previously reported, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington (GLSO) had wanted the company Hand On Originals–a company that identifies as “Christian outfitters” on the home page of its website–to print t-shirts for the 2012 Lexington Gay Pride Festival. When manager Blaine Adamson declined the order due to the company’s biblical convictions, GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Human Rights Commission.
“I want the truth to come out—it’s not that we have a sign on the front door that says, ‘No Gays Allowed,’” owner Blaine Adamson said following the filing of the complaint. “We’ll work with anybody. But if there’s a specific message that conflicts with my convictions, then I can’t promote that.”
During a hearing regarding the matter last June, GSLO representative Aaron Baker admitted to the commission that his desire to force Christians to print pro-homosexual messages works both ways, and that the homosexual companies could be forced to print messages that are against homosexuality.
“I believe that a gay printer would have to print a t-shirt for the Westboro Baptist Church,” he stated, referring to the controversial organization whose messages express a desire for Americans to burn in Hell rather than repent and be saved. “And if the Westboro Baptist Church were to say, ‘Look, we’re a church; we’re promoting our church values by having our name on a T-shirt,’ I don’t see how you could refuse that.”
HRC examiner Greg Munson therefore ruled in October that Hands On Originals violated the law by not printing the shirts for the event. The company was then ordered to undergo diversity training so that it would not decline to print such messages in the future.
But Hands on Originals filed an appeal with the Fayette Circuit Court via its legal counsel, contending that the ruling violated its constitutional right to freedom of religion and its freedom of expression.
“No one should be forced by the government to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Legal Counsel Jim Campbell told reporters. “A book editor or ghostwriter could be forced to write a book advocating messages they find contrary to their convictions based on this ruling.”
On Monday, the circuit court reversed Munson’s ruling, noting that the company regularly does business with homosexuals, and so the decision not to print the shirts was not based on any person’s sexuality, but rather the message that the company would be forced to convey.
“In short, HOO’s (Hands on Originals) declination to print the shirts was based upon the message of GLSO and the Pride Festival and not on the sexual orientation of its representatives or members,” the court wrote in its 16-page decision. “In point of fact, there is nothing in the record before the Commission that the sexual orientation of any individual that had contact with HOO was ever divulged or played any part in this case.”
“The Commission … says that it is not trying to infringe on the constitutional rights of HOO, but is seeking only to have HOO ‘… treat everyone the same.’ Yet, HOO has demonstrated in this record that it has done just that. It has treated homosexual and heterosexual groups the same,” it declared.
The court noted that from 2010-2012 Hands on Originals declined 13 orders from various groups because of the message that was to be printed.
“Those print orders that were refused by HOO included shirts promoting a strip club, pens promoting a sexually explicit video and shirts containing a violence-related message,” it explained. “There is further evidence in the Commission record that it is standard practice within the promotional printing industry to decline to print materials containing messages that the owners do not want to support.”
“Nonetheless, the Commission punished HOO for declining to print messages advocating sexual activity to which HOO and its owners strongly oppose on sincerely held religious grounds,” the court continued. “The Commission’s order substantially burdens HOO’s and its owners’ free exercise of religion, wherein the government punished HOO and its owners by its order for their sincerely held religious beliefs. This is contrary to established constitutional law.”
ADF says that it is pleased with the outcome and is in agreement with the court’s conclusion.
“The government can’t force citizens to surrender free speech rights or religious freedom in order to run a small business, and this decision affirms that,” Campbell said. “The court rightly recognized that the law protects Blaine’s decision not to print shirts with messages that conflict with his beliefs, and that no sufficient reason exists for the government to coerce Blaine to act against his conscience in this way.”
Bakers and florists who have been facing legal action in recent months have likewise stated that they regularly do business with homosexuals and have homosexual friends, but do not believe that they should be forced to be a participant in an event that conflicts with their biblical convictions.