Christian print shop owner back in court
Religious Liberty | Kentucky appeals court considers whether business can refuse to produce a message with which its owner disagrees
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 12/15/16, 09:57 am
Kentucky print shop owner Blaine Adamson went back to court Tuesday to defend his right of conscience and free speech. The Kentucky Court of Appeals must now decide whether the business owner can be compelled to print messages that violate his Christian convictions.
Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals in Lexington, Ky., won his case in the lower courts last year when a circuit court judge threw out a complaint accusing Adamson of refusing service to a gay customer. But victory was fleeting. The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission and Gay and Lesbian Service Organization (GLSO) appealed the decision, continuing to demand Adamson produce T-shirts with messages contrary to his deeply held convictions regarding God’s design for sex.
Jim Campbell, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, represented Adamson at the appeal and told me attorneys for the plaintiffs argued the message and messenger in this case are inextricably linked.
“They say there is no difference because the message was simply ‘gay pride’—you can’t separate the two,” Campbell said.
Aaron Baker, in his original 2012 complaint filed with the Human Rights Commission, said “we have been discriminated against”—referring to the entire Gay and Lesbian Service Organization membership, even though he was the only person requesting T-shirts for the gay pride parade.
Adamson refused to create the shirts because the message conflicted with his conviction that sex outside marriage violates God’s design.
In 2014, the commission sided with Baker and ordered Adamson to stop “discriminating against individuals because of their sexual orientation.” It also ordered him to “participate in diversity training.”
During appellate arguments, one judge on the three-judge panel asked only one question of the attorneys. But the remaining two seemed to be of “different minds,” Campbell said. One judge pressed him for more evidence while the other judge questioned the defendants’ appeal. One of the judges challenged the commission attorneys’ assertion that the gay pride message and the person or group were undistinguishable.
All three judges seemed particularly concerned about whether or not Hands On Originals would serve gays and lesbians.
“The court seemed to indicate that mattered a lot,” Campbell said.
Despite opponents’ characterization of Adamson as a bigot, Campbell told the court the print shop owner’s history of serving and hiring gay people and the company’s service statement proved otherwise.
The company’s service policy states, “Hands On Originals both employs and conducts business with people of all genders, races, religions, sexual preferences, and national origins.”
Adamson did not know Baker was gay when he requested the T-shirt order, Campbell told me.
“He never asked. Nor would he have cared. It wouldn’t have affected his decision one bit,” he said.
Adamson’s case is clearly about words and not the people who use them, Campbell said. A ruling against his client will impact all people in the creative-expressive industry, forcing them to create messages that conflict with their consciences, he said.
The only “friend of the court” brief filed on behalf of the Human Rights Commission and Gay and Lesbian Service Organization came from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Adamson received briefs and supportive emails from First Amendment advocates, some of whom support gay and lesbian civil protections and same-sex marriage.
The appeals court is expected to rule within 90 days.
In an unrelated case involving government control of speech, ADF attorneys announced Dec. 12 the withdrawal of a pre-enforcement lawsuit against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy and her state’s Commission Against Discrimination.
The lawsuit was filed in October on behalf of four churches who contested the interpretation of the state’s public accommodation law. Healy and the commission declared “houses of worship” could be subject to the law if they host “secular” events.
In response to the lawsuit, Civil Rights Division chief Genevieve Nadeau notified ADF of revisions made to the website to “remove the categorical reference to house of worship” as an example of a “place of public accommodation within the meaning” of the law.
“No church should fear government punishment simply for serving its community consistently with its faith. Massachusetts officials made the right decision to respect these churches’ freedom of religion and speech,” said ADF attorney Christiana Holcomb. “We will continue to monitor the situation in Massachusetts to make sure those freedoms continue to be respected.”
Pastors believed interpretation left their churches open to lawsuits if they refused to allow transgender persons to use bathrooms and private changing facilities of their choosing. The guidance letter had a chilling effect on speech—even from the pulpit. The law prohibited statements that “discriminate” or “incite” others to do so.
Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.