A Kentucky appeals court last week upheld the free speech rights of a Lexington print shop owner who refused to make gay pride t-shirts because the message conflicted with his Christian beliefs.
The ruling “is a victory for printers and other creative professionals who serve all people but cannot promote all messages,” said senior counsel Jim Campbell in a news release issued by Alliance Defending Freedom, which has represented print shop owner Blaine Adamson in court. “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 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) asked Adamson’s business, Hands On Originals, to print t-shirts promoting a local gay pride festival hosted by the group. Adamson declined to make the shirts but offered to refer the GLSO to another printer. The group eventually was able to get the shirts made for free but still filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, which said Adamson had violated a fairness ordinance and ordered him to make the shirts and attend diversity training.
Alliance Defending Freedom appealed the order to the Fayette Circuit Court, which reversed the commission’s ruling. The commission then appealed that decision to the appeals court, which in its 2-1 decision Friday affirmed the circuit court’s opinion.
Ray Sexton, executive director of the human rights commission, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the commission’s board will review Friday’s ruling and decide whether to ask the Kentucky Supreme Court to hear the case.
Meanwhile, Adamson’s supporters are celebrating their victory last week.
“It doesn’t matter what the speech is—pro-gay, anti-gay, pro-immigration, anti-immigration—the government can’t force you to print it,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at Becket, in a news release. “That’s the beauty of free speech: It protects everyone.”
Becket is a nonprofit religious liberty law firm that filed a friend-of-the-court brief defending Adamson. Its news release noted that Adamson employs and serves LGBT individuals, and serves everyone regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.
“He also cares deeply about the messages he promotes,” the news release said. “Just as pro-choice printers have declined to print pro-life messages, and LGBT printers have declined to print anti-gay messages, Adamson does not print messages that violate his beliefs. Following common printing industry practice, he only creates messages that align with his views, and has declined to create t-shirts promoting strip clubs, violence, and sexually explicit videos. That’s why LGBT business owners stood up for Mr. Adamson’s right to choose the messages he promotes.”
Goodrich said that “free speech is most important on the most divisive issues. That is the last place the government should ever be allowed to demand conformity.”