T-shirt company prosecuted for not making ‘gay’ apparel
1st Amendment fight as Christians ordered to promote homosexuality
A Kentucky clothing company that refused to produce T-shirts for a “gay”-pride festival because of the owner’s Christian beliefs is appealing a state Human Rights Commission’s ruling of “unlawful discrimination.”
Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals in Lexington, has employed and served homosexuals, but he refused a request by the local Gay and Lesbian Services Organization to promote messages that violate his beliefs.
And an attorney defending Adamson said the ramifications could be significant.
“A book editor or ghostwriter could be forced to write a book advocating messages they find contrary to their convictions based on this ruling,” ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jim Campbell said. “The litmus test now seems to be: Does the order arguably implicate a protected class or a protected characteristic? If it does, then the logic of it … would require every business that promotes messages and ideas to go against their beliefs.
“This would refer to every business, not just printers, but marketers, editors, writers and speechwriters, political groups and others that help customers endorse their brand and expression could be forced to participate in printing something if that object arguably implicated a protected class.”
Adamson filed an appeal Monday in state court through his legal counsel.
“No one should be forced by the government to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree. Laws that do that are fundamentally unjust,” said Campbell.
The complaint, citing a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision, argues that at the “heart of the First Amendment lies the principle that each person – including for-profit businesses and their owners – should decide for [themselves] the ideas and beliefs deserving of expression.”
The commission’s order, the complaint contends, “impermissibly empowers groups like the GLSO (backed by the coercive force of the public-accommodations ordinance) to determine for business owners like Mr. Adamson ‘the ideas and beliefs deserving of expression.’”
In 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization asked the company to print T-shirts for the Lexington Pride Festival. The request was submitted without letting the company know the desired message for the shirts.
When the homosexual group decided to go with Hands On Originals after it came in with the lowest bid, GLSO disclosed that the shirts were to promote the festival. The company then declined the work, explaining that creating and publicizing messages that promoted homosexuality were incompatible with the Christian values on which the company was based.
Hands On Originals then offered to find another printer that would do the shirts for the same price by the deadline.
Despite the accommodation, the homosexual group refused and filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Adamson contends, however, the issue is free speech.
ADF noted Adamson employs homosexuals and regularly prints materials for people who identify themselves as “gay.”
In an interview with WND in 2012, Raymond Sexton, executive director for the commission, said “gay” owners could refuse to print anti-”gay” literature, but a Christian company refusing to print T-shirts for a “gay” event would not have the same right.
Sexton told WND that if a “gay” printing company were asked to print T-shirts for controversial Westboro Baptist Church saying, “Homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God,” the “gay” company would have the right to refuse the order.
“If the company does not approve of the message, that is a valid non-discriminatory reason to refuse the work,” he said.
He also said a black business owner would have the right to refuse to print a flyer for a Ku Klux Klan rally.
However, when asked if the same would apply to Hands On Originals if it chose not to support “gay” pride festivals yet didn’t discriminate against a person because he is “gay,” Sexton said “possibly.”
“This is a gray area, but possibly. I can’t say definitively, but it possibly could pass the test,” he said. “I would recommend they take the word ‘gay’ out of there and say they simply don’t approve of the message.”
Sexton’s comments to WND were cited in the initial filing by ADF seeking dismissal of the case.
“As Mr. Sexton has succinctly stated, ‘[if] the company does not approve of the message that is a valid non-discriminatory reason to refuse the work.’ That is why Mr. Sexton has acknowledged that a business owner who identifies himself as homosexual would not violate the ordinance by refusing to print materials promoting the message that homosexual behavior is morally wrong, and that an African-American business owner would not violate the ordinance if he rejected an order to print promotional materials for a Klan rally.
“The same principle must apply to HOO here, lest this commission communicates that homosexual and African-American business owners receive better treatment than Christian business owners accused of discrimination,” the filing says.
Sexton’s claim that Christians do not have the same right to refuse work that violates their beliefs as other groups was also supported by the ACLU in the case of Jack Phillips, a Christian who owns Masterpiece Cake Shop in Lakewood, Colorado.
The ACLU argued before Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer in 2013 that while the government had the right to force a Christian to use his artistic talents to design a homosexual wedding cake, the standard should not be applied to other groups – such as asking a Muslim baker to make a cake criticizing his faith.
Ruling against Phillips, Spencer agreed with the ACLU regarding the double standard. The judge said that while Phillips is expected to violate his religious beliefs regarding marriage to avoid offending homosexuals, if a Muslim baker were asked to design a cake denigrating the Quran or if a black cake maker were asked to do a cake for the KKK, neither would be under any compulsion to do so.
“In both cases, it is the explicit, unmistakable, offensive message that the bakers are asked to put on the cake that gives rise to the bakers’ free speech right to refuse,” Spencer said.
“That, however, is not the case here, where respondents refused to bake any cake for complainants regardless of what was written on it or what it looked like. Respondents have no free speech right to refuse because they were only asked to bake a cake, not make a speech.”
Spencer bluntly offered cake makers who disagree with him an alternative: They can quit.
In October, Administrative Law Judge R. Greg Munson suggested that all protected classes, which would include religion, could make the same claim as GLSO.
However, in this instance, the judge stated, contrary to Sexton and Spencer, the ordinance would also force other organizations such as a “gay” print shop to take on a job that is against its owner’s beliefs.
Munson said if a person or company were to refuse work based on the message, it “would allow a public accommodation to refuse service to an individual or group of individuals who hold and/or express pride in their status.”
“The Hearing Commissioner [Munson] agrees with the commission’s contention that [HOO’s] objection to the printing of the T-shirts was inextricably intertwined with the status of the sexual orientation of members of the GLSO.”
Campbell told WND that in areas such as Washington, D.C., which has created a protected class for political views, a Republican organization could be forced to print or write for a Democratic organization and vice versa.
GLSO, which filed the case, appeared to recognize that it may have unleashed more than it bargained for in the attempt to force Christian businesses to endorse its lifestyle.
GLSO President Aaron Baker admitted during the hearing that ADF was correct in claiming a ruling against Adamson would also apply to homosexuals who were asked to make an anti-”gay” cake or T-shirt.
“I believe that a gay printer would have to print a T-shirt for the Westboro Baptist Church. … I don’t see how a gay printer could object to that. And if the Westboro Baptist Church were to say, ‘Look, we’re a church; we’re promoting our church values by having our name on a T-shirt,’ I don’t see how you could refuse that.”
The GLSO is not the only homosexual group to notice the possible implications. The Blaze reported that a pair of lesbians who have their own T-shirt company has come out in support of Hands On Originals.
Kathy Trautvetter, the founder of BMP T-shirts along with her partner, Kelley, said the two of them supported the right of Hands On Originals to refuse the work and the government had no right forcing businesses to violate their religious conscience.
“I was fascinated by the story, because we are a T-shirt maker,” Trautvetter told the Blaze. “When I read the story, I immediately felt, ‘If I were in his shoes, what would they be forcing me to do?’ I have to say, if that were me, I wouldn’t like it either.
“The idea is that when you own your own business, it’s your own art and creation — it’s very personal … it takes a long time to build a business,” she said. “When someone wants to force you to go against it — that’s what stuck me right in the heart. I really felt for Blaine.”