(Brendan Clarey, Liberty Headlines) A Kentucky appeals court ruled on Friday that the owner of a Lexington apparel and accessory printing company, Hands On Originals (HOO), has the freedom to not print certain messages based on his faith.
“In other words, the ‘service’ HOO offers is the promotion of messages. The ‘conduct’ HOO chose not to promote was pure speech,” said Chief Judge Joy A. Kramer, in the opinion. “There is no contention that HOO is a public forum in addition to a public accommodation. Nothing in the fairness ordinance prohibits HOO, a private business, from engaging in viewpoint or message censorship. Thus, although the menu of services HOO provides to the public is accordingly limited, and censors certain points of view, it is the same limited menu HOO offers to every customer and is not, therefore, prohibited by the fairness ordinance.”
In 2012 HOO owner Blaine Adamson refused to print a T-shirt design that would promote a pride festival for the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington. Adamson provided the organization the name of another printer willing to print at the price that he agreed on, and, ultimately, the organization received the T-shirts for free. But GLSO still filed a complaint against Adamson through the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission.
The commission decided in 2014 that Adamson would have to print messages – even those that he disagreed with – and would undergo diversity training. Legal group Alliance Defending Freedom appealed the decision to a circuit court on his behalf and won, but the commission appealed that decision to the state Court of Appeals, according to an ADF press release.
Friday’s ruling is regarded as a win for public speech and religious liberty advocates.
“Americans should always have the freedom to believe, the freedom to express those beliefs, and the freedom to not express ideas that would violate their conscience,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell.
“Today’s decision is a victory for printers and other creative professionals who serve all people but cannot promote all messages” Campbell said. “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.”
Chief Judge Kramer said the ordinance was misinterpreted by the Human Rights Commission.
“A contrary conclusion would result in absurdity under the facts of this case,” Judge Kramer wrote. “The Commission’s interpretation of the fairness ordinance would allow any individual to claim any variety of protected class discrimination under the guise of the fairness ordinance merely by requesting a T-shirt espousing support for a protected class and then receiving a value-based refusal.”
Judge Kramer continued:
“A Buddhist who requested T-shirts from HOO stating, ‘I support equal treatment for Muslims,’ could complain of religious discrimination under the fairness ordinance if HOO opposed equal treatment for Muslims and refused to print the T-shirts on that basis. A 25-year-old who requested t-shirts stating, ‘I support equal treatment for those over forty’ could complain of age discrimination if HOO refused on the basis of its disagreement with that message. A man who requests T-shirts stating, ‘I support equal treatment for women,’ could complain of gender discrimination if HOO refused to print the T-shirts because it disagreed with that message. And so forth. Clearly, this is not the intent of the ordinance.”
Hands On Originals is listed on its website as a Christian Outfitter, and the main page has the header: “High Quality, Customized Christian Apparel.”
The website also reflects the new legal difficulties in the terms of service.
“Hands On Originals both employs and conducts business with people of all genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, and national origins. However, 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.”