The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled 2-to-1 on May 19 in favor of a Christian-owned T-shirt business, Hands On Originals, that refused to serve the city's Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in 2012.
The Court of Appeals affirmed Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael, who ruled against the Lexington Human Rights Commission, which said the refusal of service violated the city’s fairness ordinance. The ordinance does not allow businesses, which serve the public, to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Blaine Adamson, the managing owner of Hands On Originals, refused to make the T-shirt because it was intended to reflect "pride in being gay."
Adamson told a Human Rights Commission official about his religious objection:
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Because of my Christian beliefs, I can’t promote that. Specifically, it’s the Lexington Pride Festival, the name and that it’s advocating pride in being gay and being homosexual, and I can’t promote that message. It’s something that goes against my belief system.
The Court of Appeals' Chief Judge Joy A. Kramer wrote for the two-judge majority, holding that discriminating against people based on sexual orientation is different from refusing a group because of the individual members' sexual behavior.
Kramer added that a Christian-owned printing company should not have to spread a message that the Christian disagrees with:
The right of free speech does not guarantee to any person the right to use someone else’s property. In other words, the "service" Hands On Originals offers is the promotion of messages. The "conduct" Hands On Originals chose not to promote was pure speech.
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There is no contention that Hands On Originals is a public forum in addition to a public accommodation. Nothing in the fairness ordinance prohibits Hands On Originals, a private business, from engaging in viewpoint or message censorship.
Adamson said he doesn't object to printing T-shirts for gays or lesbians if those T-shirts do not promote homosexuality.
"I don’t leave my faith at the door when I walk into my business," Adamson stated. "In my case, fortunately, the legal system worked."
Judge Jeff S. Taylor wrote in his dissent that refusing people service based on personal opposition to homosexuality is "deliberate and intentional discriminatory conduct ... in violation of the fairness ordinance."
Taylor added that the court ruling would mean the ordinance does not protect LGBT people if they publicly display their orientation:
Effectively, that would mean that the ordinance protects gays or lesbians only to the extent they do not publicly display their same-gender sexual orientation. This result would be totally contrary to legislative intent and undermine the legislative policy of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, since the ordinance logically must protect against discriminatory conduct that is inextricably tied to sexual orientation or gender identity. Otherwise, the ordinance would have limited or no force or effect.
Ray Sexton, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, said the commission's board will review the ruling, and decide whether or not to appeal it to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
"Certainly when cases are decided like this, they may set a precedent for future cases," Sexton stated. "Hopefully that won’t happen here. But we’ll have to take a look at this and see how we’re going to handle it."
The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which is now called the Pride Community Services Organization, issued a statement:
Hands On Originals' position relies on the absurd argument that printing a T-shirt with the number 5 on it, with multicolored circles and the words "Lexington Pride Festival," somehow promotes "homosexual activity," and that it is their right to censor that "speech." However, this ruling is not about free speech, it is about how LGBTQ+ persons are treated in their communities every day, as second class citizens.
The Family Policy Alliance, a political arm of the Christian ministry Focus on the Family, supported the court ruling:
Cases like Adamson’s demonstrate why believers in every state need to call on their lawmakers to pass strong religious freedom protections. Business owners should be free to live out their faith in the way they do their business -- without fear of being punished for their beliefs by their own government.