KY Appeals Court Favors Christian T-Shirt Printer in Religious Freedom Case

Blaine Adamson declined to make t-shirts promoting a pride parade in 2012.

Blaine Adamson owns Hands on Originals, a printing shop in Lexington, Ky. In 2012 he was accused of discrimination when he declined a request to make t-shirts for an LGBT pride parade. On May 12, 2017, the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld a circuit court ruling in his favor.

By Liberty McArtor Published on May 12, 2017

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced a victory Friday for its client Blaine Adamson. 

“The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld Blaine’s freedom to operate his business consistent with his faith,” said Jim Campbell, Adamson’s attorney with ADF. ADF is a Christian non-profit law firm. 

Adamson owns a printing shop in Lexington, Kentucky. In 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) requested t-shirts for a pride parade. Adamson declined the order based on his Christian beliefs. He referred GLSO to another shop that would make the t-shirts for the same price. 

GLSO filed a discrimination complaint with a local human rights commission. Since then Adamson has faced a constant legal battle. 

Free Speech, Not Discrimination

Campbell insists Adamson didn’t discriminate. “Blaine prints for all people, but he can’t print all messages,” he said in a Facebook live video Friday.

In 2015 a Kentucky circuit court agreed. It found that forcing Adamson to print the t-shirts would violate his free speech rights. The Court also noted that Adamson’s customers include people of all sexual orientations.

Further, his decision to decline GLSO’s order was nothing knew. His shop has declined at least 13 other printing jobs because of his faith. Other orders he declined included shirts for a strip club and violent messages. 

But the commission appealed the 2015 decision. The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld it Friday.

“He’s very understandably relieved,” Campbell said of Adamson. “He is very glad that a court, now the second court, has said he didn’t discriminate. He didn’t discriminate against anyone.”

It’s not necessarily the end of the case, though. The commission could appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court. “We have to wait to see what the commission does,” Campbell said

The Broader Battle

Other similar cases are pending around the country. For instance, ADF is defending Christian florist Barronelle Stutzman from Washington. She declined to serve a same-sex wedding. First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom law firm, is representing the Kleins. The Kleins are Oregon-based Christian bakers who declined to design a same-sex wedding cake. 

Conservatives hoped President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on religious liberty would clarify the rights of people like Adamson, Stutzman and the Kleins to conduct business in line with their faith. But many were underwhelmed with the actual order, which Trump signed last Thursday. 

Professor and legal expert Mark Movsesian called the order’s protections “awfully vague.” ADF attorney Gregory Baylor said it left Trump’s promises “unfulfilled.” The Stream’s John Zmirak argued the order was a “baby step in the right direction,” but that stronger protections are needed from Congress.

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  • Mo86

    It’s great to hear some good news for a change!

    • ImaginaryDomain

      Exactly my thought…

  • Wait a minute! You want us to depend on a group of people who wet themselves over the thought of standing up to the judges that the Constitution actually put beneath them?

    Constitutionally, Congress has the authority to wipe out all Federal Courts, save the Supreme Court, and has some authority to limit the cases the Supreme Court may hear.

    The only question is why they consistently refuse to do so.

    • Wayne Cook

      The word defining them isn’t printable. On T shirts or otherwise.

  • Hmmm…

    It’s becoming increasingly more significant what state you live in on issues like this. Give me fly-over country any day …

  • Wayne Cook

    Geez Liberty, are you SURE? LOL, great article!

  • GPS Daddy

    I’m all in favor of strengthening religious freedom back to the place its suppose to have. But, historically the church does better under persecution and being the underdog. The fire of persecution makes faith more genuine. Just ask the Christians in places like North Korea or Iran.

  • Daniel Edwards

    The only thing that troubles me is the idea that one must meet some sort of religious authenticity test in the minds of many people. First amendment rights are not confined to religious people. One is should be free to decline that business for whatever reason they choose, whether that decision is widely praised or widely condemned.
    These types of lawsuits are the logical result of anti-discrimination laws which in effect attempt to make illegal disapproval, no matter how noble the motivation behind them appears to be. It’s the law of unintended consequences coming home to roost.

    • Charles Burge

      I agree completely. That’s why I think it’s not helpful to frame these issues as religious ones. It’s free speech, pure and simple. The ideal of free speech doesn’t simply mean that you can say what you want without government censorship. It also means that you can refuse to engage in speech that you find objectionable.

      • Daniel Edwards

        And it applies to more than speech. How can it be that the Little Sisters of the Poor were allowed to drop contraceptive coverage from their insurance but I cannot, though we both object to it? The fact that someone else, specifically government, can rule whether I am sufficiently religious to merit such liberty is a disturbing development.

        • Charles Burge

          Yup. I hadn’t touched on that but you’re absolutely right. We’ve put the government in charge of determining what qualifies as religious practice and what does not. That’s dangerous for everyone.

          • Daniel Edwards

            The point I am not sure I have clearly made is that it shouldn’t matter if it’s not a religious objection. If the sisters can object and be granted a waiver so should I. And it shouldn’t matter what our respective reasons are.

    • ImaginaryDomain

      Daniel and Charles, excellent analysis here. These are the unintended consequences of anti-discrimination laws (or, perhaps, more cynically these are the exact consequences that the government was aiming for). Anyway, as a lawyer I am often asked how to avoid this colossal waste of time, money and energy getting snared in these traps. Here’s my advice: if your business is generally open to the public, you’re screwed if you try to exclude anyone. If, however, you focus on a specific market, you may be able to avoid these issues. For example, the Christian baker could post on her website that she is NOT open to the general public to bake wedding cakes, and she will ONLY bake wedding cake for weddings that take place in (x,y,z) churches. Similar analysis for this T-shirt guy (although the practicality is tricky, since he’s printing various slogans on shirts).

      It is a crazy state of affairs that the first amendment has been twisted into this non-sense, but here we are. One final thought for the baker, the T-shirt guy, and anyone else who refuses to provide work or service. We still have the 13th amendment. I would really like to see that angle argued. Basically, neither I (a private citizen) nor the government can force you to perform any work or service for me. That, my friends, is involuntary servitude and specifically prohibited under the 13th amendment. (except read carefully the second clause of the 13th amendment related to punishment of crimes exception).

      • Daniel Edwards

        Good point about the 13th.
        Makes me wonder how long it will be before a suit is brought against a customer for declining to do business with a protected-class merchant located closer to him in favor of another merchant located in a less convenient location.
        After all, if a merchant is obligated to any customer shouldn’t a customer be obligated to the merchant?
        Good thing our country is in such great shape that these are the issues we have to worry about…

  • Gary

    All business transactions should be voluntary for everyone involved. If anyone is coerced into participating, then it is not free enterprise and the rights of the coerced have been violated. Civil rights laws attempt to coerce the sellers of products or services. That is wrong.

    • Daniel Edwards

      Agreed. Voicing dissent, disapproval, or even dislike, through actions that neither picks another’s pocket nor breaks his bones is about a fundamental liberty as one possesses, regardless how distasteful some (or all) may find it.
      Otherwise, we end up here, facing criminal charges for declining to print a message on a t-shirt.

  • eric

    When Trump signed all those executive orders after the inauguration, his enemies quickly had some of them suspended or cancelled. Now he is moving more slowly in order to make the subject matter more enforceable and less prone to cancellation. Give him a little more time, and support him as he proceeds in the right direction. An instruction given today will become a law in due course. He is learning to restore liberty by degrees just as the godless took it away by degrees.

  • Tom Rath

    This is the correct ruling. The vendor did not refuse to sell an item to one person/group that they were willing to sell to another person/group. They said they would not sell that specific item to anyone. This falls in line with the oft-stated false equivalency about the kosher or halal deli refusing to sell someone pork. For discrimination to take place there has to be differentiation in service. A deli that doesn’t sell pork to ANYBODY does not commit an act of illegal/invidious discrimination be refusing to sell it to a specific person/party.

  • Praise God! But let’s not overlook that this would have never been issue had the constitutional framers (like their 17th-century Colonial forbears) established government and society upon Yahweh’s immutable/unchanging moral law, including Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

    Had they done so, there would be no homosexual agenda in America because no sodomite or lesbian would dare risk exposing themselves to petition government on behalf of their “rights.”

    For more on how Yahweh’s immutable moral law applies and should be implemented today, see free online book “Law and Kingdom: Their Relevance Under the New Covenant.” Click on my name, then our website. Go to our Online Books page and scroll down to title.

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