A Major Religious Freedom Victory You Probably Didn’t Hear About

Posted on June 6, 2017 in Public Policy, Religious Freedom by

HandsOnOriginalsLogoYou probably didn’t hear about the major religious freedom victory awarded by a court in Kentucky. But, you need to know about it, especially if you are a business owner.

After several years of litigation, a Kentucky appeals court has decided that Hands On Originals, a local t-shirt printing business, did not discriminate by refusing to make t-shirt for a gay pride festival.

In 2012 a LGBT organization asked Hands On Originals (HOO) to print their t-shirts for the pride festival they were preparing for. The owner of HOO, Blaine Adamson declined the order saying his Christian beliefs would not permit him to take part in supporting the message of the festival by making shirts.

As you would expect, Adamson and his business were sued for discrimination under Kentucky’s fairness ordinance. The Human Rights Commission in Kentucky ruled against HOO in the case saying that it discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. Adamson and HOO appealed the decision to the Fayette Circuit Court, which overturned the decision and ruled that there was no discrimination. The decision was then sent to the Kentucky appeals court where the lower court decision was upheld.

One of the appeals court justices wrote a concurring opinion that stated clearly that forcing HOO to print shirts with a message supporting homosexuality would be coercion. A recent article comments:

“Judge James Lambert…said that HOO is protected by the state’s RFRA. The print shop’s owners didn’t refuse to print the shirts because of the GLSO members’ sexual orientation, but because they ‘believe the lifestyle choices promoted by GSLO conflict with their Christian values.’ Holding HOO accountable for violating the city’s ordinance because of “a sincerely held religious belief” amounts to ‘coercion.’”

Adamson made it very clear that he would be willing to print shirts for the group if it did not promote the homosexual lifestyle, which he told the newspaper. This shows that he has no animosity towards any person and he certainly does not hate anyone. Adamson simply wants to live and do business according to his religious convictions. And he does not want the government to tell him he must support a message that violates those convictions.

Adamson also told The Blaze that it was about the message of the pride festival and the fact that it would violate his convictions to support that message:

“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 Blaze also carried comments by Chief Judge Joy Kramer who wrote the majority opinion:

“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. 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.”

While this accurately describes the situation and how Hands On Originals acted, not discriminatorily but in accordance with their own “viewpoint,” or, religious convictions. It must be noted that under this same scenario an atheist printer could refuse to print a shirt promoting a celebrating of God, and a lesbian printer could refuse to print a shirt celebrating heterosexual marriage. And, I’m okay with that.

I believe any attempt to call this discrimination or paint Adamson as a bigot for refusing to support a message that violates his religious convictions is slander. Adamson and HOO have likely served many of the people in the LGBT organization for years without any complaint. Anyone that wanted a birthday, anniversary, or bachelor party t-shirt got great service with a smile, regardless of his or her sexual orientation. So this has nothing to do with being homosexual but rather it has everything to do with promoting that lifestyle.

This is certainly a win for religious freedom, something that has been hard to achieve in the last few years. The organizations that have worked tirelessly to defend religious liberty rightfully celebrated their hard fought win:

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious freedom organization that helped represent Adamson, proclaimed, ‘Today’s decision is a victory for printers and other creative professionals who serve all people but cannot promote all messages.’”

“The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which also helped represent Adamson, was similarly jubilant.

“The Family Research Council applauded ADF’s win, and its president, Tony Perkins, opined, “We hope to hear soon that the U.S. Supreme Court will accept the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and ensure that the owner, Jack Phillips, will be free to follow his religious beliefs without fear of punishment by the government.”

Of course not everyone was happy. The Blaze also carried comments by Ray Sexton, the executive director of Lexington’s Human Rights Council:

“Ray Sexton, the executive director of Lexington’s Human Rights Council, told the Herald-Leader they aren’t sure if they will appeal the ruling to the Kentucky Supreme Court. He also explained his hopefulness that the appeals court’s decision doesn’t set a precedent that strips away the council’s power. ‘Certainly when cases are decided like this, they may set a precedent for future cases. 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.’”

If the Human Rights Council appeals and loses, it will further solidify the religious freedom victory. That could mean other business owners will have the freedom to live out their faith at their businesses, something the HRC doesn’t want.

This is one of two religious freedom victories this year already. The other came when the EEOC in New Jersey agreed that a local school district discriminated on the basis of religion when it fired a substitute teacher for giving a Bible to a student that asked for one.

I think the best way to understand this issue is in the statement from Alliance Defending Freedom when they said that Adamson and others like him are happy to serve “ all people but cannot promote all messages.” No one should be forced to support and promote a message that violates their deeply held convictions. This time the court got it right.

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