A Kentucky print shop cannot be forced to make t-shirts for a gay pride event, an appeals court has ruled. A gay rights group had filed a complaint over the denial of service, and a Kentucky government entity had ordered the Christian printer to make the shirts.
The ruling ended a nearly four-year long court battle over personal rights, equal access, and freedom of expression. The original incident, in 2012, involved the printer Hands On Originals, and The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in Kentucky. In 2014, a Kentucky commission ordered against the Christian printer, and a lawsuit was filed.
The ruling ends a trend of courts ruling against the free speech rights of Christian-owned businesses who sought not to create products or provide services counter to their personal beliefs.
The ruling by the Kentucky Court of Appeals favored the business owner. A crucial difference in this case was the expressive nature of the service denied: literally words on a shirt.
In a split vote, a three-judge panel concluded that the store, Hands on Originals, couldn’t be forced to print a message with which the owner disagreed.
The dispute started in 2012 when Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in Kentucky asked Hands on Originals to make T-shirts with the name and logo of a pride festival.
Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands on Originals, said he refused to print the shirts because it violated his business’s policy of not printing messages that endorse positions in conflict with his convictions.
Mr. Adamson offered examples of other orders he refused, such as shirts featuring the word “bitches” or a depiction of Jesus dressed as a pirate.
The gay-rights group filed a complaint with the Lexington Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, which in 2014 ordered Mr. Adamson to make the shirts.
Friday’s decision affirmed an earlier ruling from a lower court. The commission, which brought the appeal, said the store was in violation of a local “fairness” ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals, one level below the state’s Supreme Court, disagreed, ruling that the conduct by the business wasn’t discrimination, rather a decision not to promote certain speech.
One judge on the panel dissented, saying he thought Mr. Adamson’s shop had engaged in “deliberate and intentional discriminatory conduct.”
In other lawsuits against religious business owners, courts have rejected First Amendment defenses.
Free speech arguments failed to persuade New Mexico’s highest court, which ruled in 2013 that the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company couldn’t refuse to photograph a same-sex ceremony.
Likewise, Washington state’s highest court this year ruled against a florist who wouldn’t prepare floral arrangements for a gay couple’s wedding.
In 2015, a Colorado appeals court ruled against a Christian baker who refused to design a cake for a gay wedding. The owner, Masterpiece Cakeshop, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The high court hasn’t decided whether to hear it.
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