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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