Here’s Why You Should Care About the Gay Pride Shirt Case at the Kentucky Supreme Court

 

The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments on behalf of Hands On Originals owner Blaine Adamson on Aug. 23.For Blaine Adamson, there’s no separating his beliefs from his work. His Christian faith is what guides and drives him. It’s what makes Blaine who he is at home, in his community, and in his business.

Blaines’ faith is why his promotional print shop, Hands On Originals, provides otherwise unemployed women in Uganda with a steady income by hiring them to create hand-woven baskets, which they then give away to customers to raise awareness for the struggles these women face on a daily basis.

But this same faith that motivates Blaine toward generosity is the reason why he has had to defend himself in court over the past seven years. The latest stop is today at the Kentucky Supreme Court. There, the justices will decide whether Blaine is allowed to decline to print messages that violate his faith.

Blaine serves everyone; he just doesn’t print all messages. In fact, between 2010 and 2012, Blaine declined to print over a dozen messages, including one for a Kentucky church group that brought him a design featuring Jesus sitting on a bucket of fried chicken. Blaine told that group he found the artwork disrespectful, and he declined to print it.

While Blaine occasionally declines orders because of the message he’s asked to print, he still helps those customers as much as he can—he goes as far as his conscience will allow. That is why he offers to send those orders to another print shop that will create the requested item.

That’s exactly what happened when Hands On Originals was asked to print shirts promoting an upcoming gay pride festival in Lexington back in early 2012. The shirt design featured a large rainbow-colored “5”—a recognition that it would be the event’s fifth year—along with the words “Lexington Pride Festival.”

After considering the message that those words and that logo would communicate, Blaine decided to decline the order. Those shirts would have promoted a view of sexuality that Blaine doesn’t share. Even members of the requesting group—the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization—admitted that the shirts expressed messages in conflict with Blaine’s religious beliefs.

Blaine offered to connect the group to another printer that would create the shirts for the same price. But the group wasn’t satisfied with that solution. Instead, it filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, which in turn ruled that Blaine had illegally discriminated against the GLSO based on sexual orientation.

Blaine didn’t stand a chance before the commission. Ignoring the fact that Blaine serves and employs people who identify as gay and lesbian, the commission ordered Blaine’s staff to attend “diversity training” as punishment. The commission also failed to account for another glaring detail along the way—one Hands On Originals customer, a lesbian musician, performed at that year’s pride festival, making the idea that Blaine discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation even more far-fetched.

Meanwhile, the GLSO—whose then-president was married to a woman and did not identify as gay—was contacted by “nearly a dozen t-shirt companies” that said “they would be happy to print . . . t-shirts for the Pride Festival.” In the end, one company printed the GLSO’s shirts free of charge, saving the group $3,000 in the process.

In 2014, a Kentucky trial court ruled in Blaine’s favor, overturning the commission’s ruling. In 2017, a court of appeals again ruled in Blaine’s favor, pointing out that the idea of punishing Blaine for his decision not to print a particular message “would result in absurdity under the facts of this case.” Yet, undaunted in the lead-up to arguments at the Kentucky Supreme Court, the commission still contends that it should win.

No matter how doggedly the commission pursues Blaine, it shouldn’t be allowed to punish him for declining to print a message he wouldn’t have printed for anyone. Americans don’t surrender their faith or their freedom of speech when they choose to make a living by printing messages or creating speech. The Kentucky Supreme Court has a chance to affirm that.

That’s why Blaine’s case is so critical not just for his fellow Kentuckians, and not just his fellow Christians, but for everyone.

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There are 21 comments.

  1. Aaron Miller Member

    Such professional dilemmas have always occurred, long before the “gay pride” movement. When I sold lumber, for example, I once had to choose whether or not as a Christian I would assist a voodoo practioner in design of a small altar. Around that time, many atheists around the country were objecting to Christian symbols on public land. The Yay Gay movement, as I like to call it, is just a prominent point of contention right now. 

    Freedom of expression means freedom to refuse claims and not only to speak or act in them. Freedom of speech has always been bound with freedom of religion, which is why the two are both mentioned in the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution. Attacks on free expression are among the most consequential conflicts of our time. 

    • #1
    • August 23, 2019, at 9:50 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  2. David Carroll Thatcher

    This case demonstrates the insidious effects of government. Here a government agency inflicts its punishment through the process. Even winning, Blaine Adamson loses. He has lost money to his lawyers (unless he has been fortunate enough to be defended for free due to the nature or the case) and he has lost other resources: time, worry, emotional distress.

    It is the members of the losing government body who deserve punishment. If Mr. Adamson wins as he has in each court, I suggest that the members of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission should be personally liable for his attorney fees.

    Not the law, but it would be justice.

    • #2
    • August 23, 2019, at 9:56 AM PDT
    • 14 likes
  3. Old Bathos Member

    Why do the Commissioners still have jobs? If it is a matter of law that they wrongly went after this man (it is) and if it is abundantly clear this absolutely had to involve malice against his constitutionally protected religious beliefs (are we asked to pretend that there was no anti-Christian bias here? Not even a smidgen?) and if they have incurred costs to the public as a result of pursuing this malicious litigation, why the hell do they still have jobs? Why does that Commission even exist and who granted them enforcement power? The political commissars on and off campus must be defunded.

    • #3
    • August 23, 2019, at 10:16 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  4. Western Chauvinist Member

    Wait… I was told this harassment of Christians would end just as soon as gays got what they wanted in SSM. That was a lie???

    /sarc off

    • #4
    • August 23, 2019, at 10:19 AM PDT
    • 16 likes
  5. Sabrdance Member

    Human rights commissions are an abomination before the separation of powers and should be scoured from the earth and the memory of man.

    • #5
    • August 23, 2019, at 10:20 AM PDT
    • 16 likes
  6. Bob Wainwright Member

    It seems courts who side with defendants in cases like this haven’t completely decided whether the defendants should prevail only if their beliefs are religious, or if they should prevail regardless of whether their beliefs are religiously based. The main decision by the appeals court in this case seems to be based on a freedom of expression analysis, without really bringing religion into it, but the concurring opinion is based on the religion analysis. If this issue is ever clearly settled in the Supreme Court, I hope it’s based on freedom of expression. We can’t have laws that apply to some people but not to others because they are a member of a government recognized and approved religious group. 

    • #6
    • August 23, 2019, at 10:55 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  7. tigerlily Member

    Bob Wainwright (View Comment):

    It seems courts who side with defendants in cases like this haven’t completely decided whether the defendants should prevail only if their beliefs are religious, or if they should prevail regardless of whether their beliefs are religiously based. The main decision by the appeals court in this case seems to be based on a freedom of expression analysis, without really bringing religion into it, but the concurring opinion is based on the religion analysis. If this issue is ever clearly settled in the Supreme Court, I hope it’s based on freedom of expression. We can’t have laws that apply to some people but not to others because they are a member of a government recognized and approved religious group.

    Good point.

    • #7
    • August 23, 2019, at 11:20 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Henry Castaigne Member

    David Carroll (View Comment):

    This case demonstrates the insidious effects of government. Here a government agency inflicts its punishment through the process. Even winning, Blaine Adamson loses. He has lost money to his lawyers (unless he has been fortunate enough to be defended for free due to the nature or the case) and he has lost other resources: time, worry, emotional distress.

    It is the members of the losing government body who deserve punishment. If Mr. Adamson wins as he has in each court, I suggest that the members of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission should be personally liable for his attorney fees.

    Not the law, but it would be justice.

    There are next to zero costs for bringing a case forward and many costs to defend yourself no matter how silly the case is. We know from economics that people gravitate towards what is cheap and try to avoid what is expensive. Defending your freedom of association should not be a costly affair. 

    • #8
    • August 23, 2019, at 11:27 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  9. Henry Castaigne Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Wait… I was told this harassment of Christians would end just as soon as gays got what they wanted in SSM. That was a lie???

    /sarc off

    Where did you hear that? 

    • #9
    • August 23, 2019, at 11:28 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Old Bathos Member

    Bob Wainwright (View Comment):

    It seems courts who side with defendants in cases like this haven’t completely decided whether the defendants should prevail only if their beliefs are religious, or if they should prevail regardless of whether their beliefs are religiously based. The main decision by the appeals court in this case seems to be based on a freedom of expression analysis, without really bringing religion into it, but the concurring opinion is based on the religion analysis. If this issue is ever clearly settled in the Supreme Court, I hope it’s based on freedom of expression. We can’t have laws that apply to some people but not to others because they are a member of a government recognized and approved religious group.

    i agree that it would be better to establish very broad protection on the basis of freedom of expression. There is no such thing as a “government recognized and approved religious group” in establishment or free exercise analysis. A matter of conscience does not have to be the result of a formal religious affiliation (but such an affiliation helps for evidentiary purposes with respect to establishing the fact, scope and sincerity of the beliefs implicated). What is “recognized” is that for which protection under the free exercise clause is sought, which protection does not require “approval”of the sect or denomination or any of its tenets. The right is affirmed, not the particular uses of it.

    • #10
    • August 23, 2019, at 11:32 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Bob Wainwright Member

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Bob Wainwright (View Comment):

    It seems courts who side with defendants in cases like this haven’t completely decided whether the defendants should prevail only if their beliefs are religious, or if they should prevail regardless of whether their beliefs are religiously based. The main decision by the appeals court in this case seems to be based on a freedom of expression analysis, without really bringing religion into it, but the concurring opinion is based on the religion analysis. If this issue is ever clearly settled in the Supreme Court, I hope it’s based on freedom of expression. We can’t have laws that apply to some people but not to others because they are a member of a government recognized and approved religious group.

    i agree that it would be better to establish very broad protection on the basis of freedom of expression. There is no such thing as a “government recognized and approved religious group” in establishment or free exercise analysis. A matter of conscience does not have to be the result of a formal religious affiliation (but such an affiliation helps for evidentiary purposes with respect to establishing the fact, scope and sincerity of the beliefs implicated). What is “recognized” is that for which protection under the free exercise clause is sought, which protection does not require “approval”of the sect or denomination or any of its tenets. The right is affirmed, not the particular uses of it.

    But as a practical matter, if you show little or no evidence of any religious beliefs, and your defense is that it’s against your religion… and you are sincere in that defense because of vague philosophical or religious intuitions…and you lose, then the government has in fact disapproved your “religion” right there. It doesn’t have to be government approval in a formal, bureaucratic sense. 

    I hope we don’t end up in a situation where a defendant prevails because he says that he received his beliefs from a voice from a cloud, but another defendant fails for the exact same “offense” because he says was born with a distaste for homosexuality. Exact same offense by two different people, but only one is punished. Under what possible western concept of law can that be justified? 

     

    • #11
    • August 23, 2019, at 11:51 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Aaron Miller Member

    As I’ve argued before,”freedom of religion” is a red herring that no religious person really needs. That is, religious freedom and freedom of expression are not distinct (as the 1st Amendment’s authors imply). Appending the label “religion” should not alter civil liberties.

    Whether a person is Christian, Hindu, atheist, or agnostic, the essential point is that one should be as free as prudently possible to express and live by unpopular or unapproved beliefs about life, the world, and everything. Minority beliefs can generally be argued against and denied support, rather than absolutely banned and prosecuted. 

    Necessarily, some beliefs must dominate. We do not permit public orgies or child sacrifice merely because those have been religious practices. There will always be limits to religious freedom, just as there are limits to speech (such as laws against serious threats of violence). 

    Modern trouble arises from the mistaken assertion that a government which refuses recognition of God and other Christian assumptions is neutral on religion. It is atheism masquerading as agnosticism. 

    The 1st Amendment has been abused in many ways, not only in regard to religion. The freedom of the press, for example, is also merely a manifestation of free expression; and so “the press” are due no special protections.

    • #12
    • August 23, 2019, at 12:25 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Old Bathos Member

    Bob Wainwright (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Bob Wainwright (View Comment):

     

    But as a practical matter, if you show little or no evidence of any religious beliefs, and your defense is that it’s against your religion… and you are sincere in that defense because of vague philosophical or religious intuitions…and you lose, then the government has in fact disapproved your “religion” right there. It doesn’t have to be government approval in a formal, bureaucratic sense.

    I hope we don’t end up in a situation where a defendant prevails because he says that he received his beliefs from a voice from a cloud, but another defendant fails for the exact same “offense” because he says was born with a distaste for homosexuality. Exact same offense by two different people, but only one is punished. Under what possible western concept of law can that be justified?

    I think the case is about the fact that this guy was singled out precisely because he was open about the nature of his motivations and anti-religious bigots decided he needed a beatdown. 

    I think we would agree that in a truly free society, one should be able to reject any business deal one does not feel like doing for any reason, especially if it involves personalized services. Unfortunately, anti-discrimination law (made necessary by Lester Maddox et al) complicates that such that rejection of commercial exchanges involving members of protected groups virtually requires proof of an intent that is not violative. “A distaste for homosexuality” can be unlawful if it is the intent behind an putative discriminatory act. One the other hand, if you don’t reveal that distaste, and if you are known to be cranky and given to random rejections of customer requests (particularly if they are political) you are probably OK. 

    It should be OK to say that I disagree with this political movement and choose not to produce materials for it but the left has managed to make it a hate crime NOT to endorse whatever is done in the name of celebrating organized sodomy. Therefore, only by invoking a constitutional right that trumps legislative correctives can one escape that ersatz duty. A claim of mere secular conscience (without a free expression or religion) will be rejected because it is too hard to distinguish from discriminatory intent. Unless and until the “human rights commission” commissars are defanged, I don’t see too many other escape routes.

    • #13
    • August 23, 2019, at 12:28 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Stad Thatcher

    Jay Hobbs: Instead, it filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission

    No government should ever have a “human rights commission” in the first place, much less one with the power of government behind it . . .

    • #14
    • August 23, 2019, at 12:54 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. JamesSalerno Coolidge

    I hate this stuff so much.

    You don’t even have to make the liberty/freedom argument against it (though you should). What about an artist’s right to only take on work that they think they can do? I can paint portraits of people all day but don’t ask me to do vehicles. If you do ask me, I will decline. I don’t have to give a reason why. And as a customer, I would only ask an artist to do something that they are accustomed to doing.

    • #15
    • August 23, 2019, at 1:59 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. Sabrdance Member

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    As I’ve argued before,”freedom of religion” is a red herring that no religious person really needs. That is, religious freedom and freedom of expression are not distinct (as the 1st Amendment’s authors imply). Appending the label “religion” should not alter civil liberties.

     

    If we want to get particular about the First Amendment, when it was written, the Amendment only prohibited the federal government from establishing a national church. It’s purpose -far from preventing state churches -was to prevent the Federal Government from trying to meddle with the established churches of the states. The protection religions people had was that they could create state churches within their own states -as was fairly normal everywhere in Europe at the time. For a variety of reasons, the states decided to disestablish their churches, but another 150 years, the states still legislated as if they could create state churches -in their school curriculum, public monuments, and so forth.

    In this area, I am not actually certain the incorporation of the First Amendment against the states was either a good idea or correct.

    Regardless, we’re no longer arguing what the First Amendment actually meant -as that’s been a dead letter nearing on a century. We’re arguing about what it could mean, given the deformities we’ve already made upon it.

    • #16
    • August 23, 2019, at 2:27 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Stad Thatcher

    Isn’t it ironic that cake bakers et al. are being sued even though they have First Amendment Rights not to participate in something that goes against their religious principles (free exercise), but a bakery can refuse to make a “Blue Lives Matter” cake and suffer no repercussions . . .

    • #17
    • August 24, 2019, at 6:14 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. GrannyDude Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    Isn’t it ironic that cake bakers et al. are being sued even though they have First Amendment Rights not to participate in something that goes against their religious principles (free exercise), but a bakery can refuse to make a “Blue Lives Matter” cake and suffer no repercussions . . .

    This would probably be the way to go—if one were inclined, and had the time, to engage in frivolous lawsuits of one’s own. Go around asking creators of various kinds to make stuff they won’t want to make. “Proud Boys” and “Pro-Life” cakes and t-shirts; “Trump Is The One” bumper stickers… our local Fiber Artists association mounted an exhibit of political fiber art (?) and the curator told me she was grateful that all the entrants were anti-Trump, even though the call for submissions did not specify that the political feltings, weavings and macrame had to be left-handed, so to speak.

    If I’d known, I might have knitted a MAGA sweater for Melania or something…

    • #18
    • August 24, 2019, at 9:52 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Mole-eye Member

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Why do the Commissioners still have jobs? If it is a matter of law that they wrongly went after this man (it is) and if it is abundantly clear this absolutely had to involve malice against his constitutionally protected religious beliefs (are we asked to pretend that there was no anti-Christian bias here? Not even a smidgen?) and if they have incurred costs to the public as a result of pursuing this malicious litigation, why the hell do they still have jobs? Why does that Commission even exist and who granted them enforcement power? The political commissars on and off campus must be defunded.

    The University of Kentucky is located in Lexington. Does that answer the question?

    • #19
    • August 26, 2019, at 3:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Mole-eye Member

    I may be showing my ignorance here, but as I recall it, the ban on race-based commercial discrimination was jerry-rigged out of the Interstate Commerce Clause. To wit, refusing to serve black customers in restaurants, etc., burdened interstate commerce. How does it burden interstate commerce if a printer refuses to print a certain statement but provides many alternative sources for printing that statement to the customer? And if a printer must print anything a customer requests, why can’t the NY Times be compelled to print unbiased or right-wing articles in its editions? (Oh Lord, speed the day!)

     

    • #20
    • August 26, 2019, at 4:19 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Western Chauvinist Member

    Mole-eye (View Comment):
    And if a printer must print anything a customer requests, why can’t the NY Times be compelled to print unbiased or right-wing articles in its editions? (Oh Lord, speed the day!)

    Good point. I wonder if just anyone can print any message in ad space. How about, Four More Years! And a list of Trump’s accomplishments. 

    • #21
    • August 26, 2019, at 8:01 AM PDT
    • Like