Kentucky court rules on LGBT t-shirt case

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The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that the Christian owner of a printing shop in Lexington, Kentucky had the right to refuse to make T-shirts promoting a local gay pride festival.

A lower court ruling that suggested “religious freedom” was on the line.

The case goes back to 2012, when Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals (HOO), refused to print t-shirts for the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO). The shirt was supposed to have been made for the fifth anniversary of the Lexington Pride Festival. GLSO wanted a design that would have featured the name of the festival along with a stylized “5” in a rainbow.

According to Adamson in one deposition, printing a shirt that advocates pride in being homosexual violated his religious beliefs, so he declined the job.

A complaint was filed against HOO, and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission agreed that Adamson had likely violated the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which includes protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Commission issued its final ruling in 2014, explaining, “Those members of protected classes who outwardly express pride in their own religion or sexual orientation do so because of their self-identification of being within that classification of persons.”

A Kentucky state judge reversed that ruling in 2015, with Circuit Court Judge James Ishmael deciding that Adamson wasn’t discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation; he was refusing to print a message supporting an organization that advocates “sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.” Because of this, the judge ruled that Adamson was protected by the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and a law requiring him to print the shirts “inflicts a substantial burden on [his] free exercise of religion.”

Chief Judge Joy Kramer on Friday ruled that “speech cannot be considered an activity or conduct that is engaged in exclusively or predominantly by a particular class of people.”

She further explained, “The GLSO itself also has no sexual orientation or gender identity: it is a gender-neutral organization that functions as a support network and advocate for individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered [sic].” The representative from GLSO who called Adamson happened to be a heterosexual, cisgender man, but he never disclosed his sexual orientation. Indeed, Adamson openly admitted he refused service because of the presumed orientation of the members of an organization that has “gay and lesbian” in the title.

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