A Christian print shop owner who refused to print pro-LGBT T-shirts in 2012 has the constitutional right not to print messages that conflict with his Christian beliefs, a Kentucky court ruled on Monday.
After Blaine Adamson, the managing owner of a Lexington print shop called Hands on Originals, refused to print T-shirts for Lexington's 2012 gay pride festival, he was found to be guilty of discrimination by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission last year, even though doing so would have violated his religious conviction. Additionally, the print shop was ordered to serve future requests from LGBT activists.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group that defends the right of Christian expression, came to HOO's aid and filed an appeal of the decision. Fayette Circuit Court Judge James D. Ishmael Jr. reversed the Human Rights Commission's decision on Monday and stated the commission went above its statutory authority in siding with the LGBT legal group, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington.
"The order from the Human Rights Commission violates the recognized constitutional rights of HOO and its owners to be free from compelled expression," Ishmael's written opinion asserts. "Hoo and its owners have a constitutional right of freedom of expression from government coercion."
"The commission's order substantially burdens HOO's and its owners' free exercise of religion, wherein the government punished HOO and its owners by its order for their sincerely held religious beliefs," the opinion added. "This is contrary to established constitutional law."
The opinion goes on to explain that the HOO website clearly states that "due to the promotional nature of our products, it is the prerogative of Hands On Originals to refuse any order that would endorse positions that conflict with the convictions of the ownership."
Additionally, HOO has declined at least 13 orders in the last few years because they included messages that the owners disagreed with.
"[Adamson] and his co-owners are Christians who believe that the Holy Bible is the inspired Word of God and that they should strive to live consistently with its teachings," the opinion continues. "HOO's owners, through Blaine Adamson, as managing owner, operate HOO consistently with the teachings of the Bible."
Ishmael also debunked the notion that HOO discriminated based on the customers' homosexuality.
"In short, HOO's declination to print the shirts was based upon the message of GLSO and the Pride Festival and not on the sexual orientation of its representatives or members," the decision stated. "In point of fact, there is nothing in the record before the commission that the sexual orientation of any individual that had contact with HOO was ever divulged or played any part in this case."
Jim Campbell, the ADF senior counsel representing HOO in the case, commended the judge's decision as a confirmation that governments cannot force business owners to give up their freedom of expression.
"The government can't force citizens to surrender free-speech rights or religious freedom in order to run a small business, and this decision affirms that," Campbell said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. "The court rightly recognized that the law protects Blaine's decision not to print shirts with messages that conflict with his beliefs, and that no sufficient reason exists for the government to coerce Blaine to act against his conscience in this way."
Martin Cothran, spokesman for statewide social conservative group The Family Foundation of Kentucky, also praised the ruling as a victory for religious liberty.
"We are pleased to see some courts are still acknowledging the First Amendment's right to religious freedom," Cothran issued in a statement. "And that the 'PC police' are not quite powerful enough to convince courts that it doesn't exist."
Ray Sexton, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, told the Lexington Herald Leader that he expects to file an appeal of the circuit court's ruling.
Although LGBT activists are decrying the circuit court's ruling, the decision is similar to a ruling made in Colorado in early April which stated that a pro-LGBT Denver bakery did not discriminate when it refused to make two Bible shaped cakes with biblical verses and phrases displayed on them like "God hates sin. Psalm 45:7."