According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit legal organization that advocates for religious freedom, Chief Judge Joy A. Kramer of the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals, who was charged with discrimination when he refused to print t-shirts for the 2012 Gay Pride Festival in Lexington.
This resulted in charges by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission which found that Adamson must print messages even if they conflict with this faith if customers ask him to do so, and the failure to do so constituted a violation of the city’s fairness ordinance.
“Because of my Christian beliefs, I can’t promote that,” Adamson told a Human Rights Commission hearing officer at the time. “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.”
However, Alliance Defining Freedom attorneys appealed the order to the Fayette Circuit Court which reversed the Commission’s ruling and affirmed Adamson’s freedom to live according to his faith. The Commission appealed the decision to the Kentucky Court of Appeals which upheld the lower court’s ruling.
In the decision, which was written by Chief Judge Kramer, the court found that Adamson did not engage in unlawful discrimination. She explained that no evidence demonstrates that Hands On Originals “refused any individual the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations it offered to everyone else because the individual in question had a specific sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In fact, Adamson regularly does business with and employs people who identify as LGBT.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Debra Hembree Lambert said that Hands On Originals is protected by Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Statute, and that Adamson has the right under that law to operate his business consistently with his “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The Human Rights Commission told the Lexington Herald Leader that they will be reviewing the opinion and deciding whether or not to pursue the case to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which now goes by the name the Pride Community Services Organization, said in a statement that it was “disheartened” by Friday’s ruling.
“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,’” the group said. “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.”
However, Judge Kramer’s decision feels like a breath of fresh air for millions of American Christians who have been witnessing the steady erosion of their rights to religious freedom by courts that frequently rule against Christian business owners who refuse to service events that violate their consciences.
“Americans should always have the freedom to believe, the freedom to express those beliefs, and the freedom to not express ideas that would violate their conscience,” said ADF attorney Jim Campbell, who argued the case in December of last year.
“Today’s decision is a victory for printers and other creative professionals who serve all people but cannot promote all messages. It is also a victory for all Americans because it reassures us all that, no matter what you believe, the law can’t force you to express a message in conflict with your deepest convictions.”
In an interview Friday, Adamson told the Leader that he does not object to printing shirts for gays or lesbians as long as those shirts do not carry a message promoting homosexuality.
“I don’t leave my faith at the door when I walk into my business,” Adamson said. “In my case, fortunately, the legal system worked.”
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