FRANKFORT, Ky. — A number of friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed with the Kentucky Supreme Court as it is set to decide an appeal surrounding an expressly Christian screen printing business accused of discrimination for declining to print shirts for a “gay pride” parade. Among the amicus briefs include those filed by 10 states, the governor of Kentucky, and 16 legal scholars.
“[C]onsistent with [the court’s wrongful] interpretation of Section 5 of the Constitution, a publisher who supports same-sex marriage could be required to print materials for a group seeking to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges; the government could require a Christian advertising agency to publicly promote strip clubs; a homosexual photographer could be required to photograph a rally opposing homosexuality; and a pro-life speech writer could be forced to write a speech for a pro-choice candidate voicing support for Roe v. Wade,” wrote attorneys for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.
“This is plainly not a world in which we would want to live, nor is it a world in which we should live,” they wrote.
A brief was also filed by attorneys general representing 10 other states: Dylan Jacobs, assistant solicitor general of Arkansas; Steve Marshall, attorney general of Alabama; Jeff Landry, attorney general of Louisiana; Doug Peterson, attorney general of Nebraska; Alan Wilson, attorney general of South Carolina; Patrick Morrissey, attorney general of West Virginia; Derek Schmidt, attorney general of Kansas; Josh Hawley, attorney general of Missouri; Mike Hunter, attorney general of Oklahoma; and Ken Paxton, attorney general of Texas.
“Critically, the Commission cannot be allowed to define the governmental interest here as ‘anti-discrimination’ broadly speaking. Not only would such a definition open the door for government-compelled speech, it would be beyond the scope of this case,” they wrote. “As the record shows, HOO will print t-shirts for individuals no matter their sexual orientation—it simply will not print t-shirts supporting an event such as the Lexington Pride Festival, no matter who requests them.”
“The situation here thus parallels the ‘peculiar way’ that the state … interpreted its law when no individual has been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, but only because of the message at stake,” the legal brief continued.
16 legal scholars, whose names have not yet been provided for publication, submitted a similar amicus brief.
“[T]he book of Daniel in Hebrew Scripture narrates the story of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (given the Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) who were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow before a golden statue. In late antiquity, Christians were often required to burn incense to pagan idols or pay obeisance to divinized emperors; this practice seemed perfectly innocuous to Roman Authorities but was a sacrilege to Christians,” they noted.
“The oppressiveness of such practices lay not so much in preventing people from expressing their beliefs; rather, it consisted of the even more invasive practice of forcing people to affirm, utter, or support what they did not believe,” the scholars outlined. “The American founders rebelled against the oppression inherent in such compulsion.”
As previously reported, in 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington (GLSO) approached the Kentucky-based Hand On Originals—a company that identifies as “Christian outfitters” and providers of “Christian apparel” on the homepage of its website—to print t-shirts for the 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 (HRC).
“I want the truth to come out—it’s not that we have a sign on the front door that says, ‘No Gays Allowed,’” 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.
“The evidence of record shows that the respondent discriminated against GLSO because of its members’ actual or imputed sexual orientation by refusing to print and sell to them the official shirts for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival,” he wrote.
GSLO representative Aaron Baker admitted to the commission during the hearing that his desire to force Christians to print pro-homosexual messages works both ways, and that homosexual companies could be forced to print—for example—messages for the Westboro Baptist “Church.”
“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.”
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 freedom of expression.
In April 2015, 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.”
The HRC appealed the ruling to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which upheld the circuit court determination in favor of Hands on Originals and Adamson.
It noted that GLSO representative Don Lowe never identified himself as a homosexual in placing the order, and the requesting organization isn’t limited to homosexuals. Therefore, the refusal had nothing to do with discriminating against a specific person, but rather the message that was requested.
“Don Lowe testified he never told Adamson anything regarding his sexual orientation or gender identity. The GLSO itself also has no sexual orientation or gender identity: it is a gender-neutral organization that functions as a support network and advocate for individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered,” the court wrote.
The HRC then appealed again to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which agreed in October to hear the case.
“As the numerous briefs filed in this case affirm, printers and other creative professionals should be able to peacefully live and work according to their beliefs without fear of punishment by the government,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Jim Campbell said in a statement on Monday. “Blaine serves all people. He simply declines to print messages that conflict with his faith. The law promises him that freedom.”
According to ADF, only one brief in support of the GLSO has been filed with the court.