LEXINGTON, Ky. — A court battle continues over the right of a Christian business not to print t-shirts for a “gay pride” event in conflict with its biblical beliefs after the Kentucky Human Rights Commission recently filed an appeal in an effort to force the company to comply with its demands.
As previously reported, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington (GLSO) had wanted the Kentucky-based 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.”
HRC examiner Greg Munson ruled in October 2014 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.
In April, the 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.
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.”
As the Human Rights Commission has appealed the ruling to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, several religious rights organization are fighting back.
“GLSO admits that it would reject a religious organization that wanted to set up a booth condemning homosexuality at the pride festival,” the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty wrote in its friend of the court brief on Thursday. “Such conduct should be protected, just as a pro-choice printer’s refusal to print religious pro-life messages should be protected, and just as a gay photographer’s refusal to photograph a religious anti-gay rally should be protected.”
It notes that even a self-proclaimed lesbian-owned screen printer shop in Kentucky has come out in support of Hands On Originals.
“No one should be forced to do something against what they believe in. If we were approached by an organization such as the Westboro Baptist Church, I highly doubt we would be doing business with them, and we would be very angry if we were forced to print anti-gay t-shirts,” Diane DiGeloromo, an owner of BMP T-Shirts, told the Blaze last November. “This isn’t a gay or straight issue. This is a human issue.”
University of Virginia Law Professor Douglas Laycock and Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLCS joined in the brief. The religious liberties organization Alliance Defending Freedom is handling the main arguments in the case.