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Religious Freedom to Discriminate.

2016-MAY: Kentucky business wins the
right to discriminate on religious grounds:

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Lexington, KY, and surrounding area, has a ordinance that prohibits owners of Public Accommodations from discriminating against customers on the basis of their Color, Disability, Gender Identity, National Origin, Race, Religion, and Sexual Orientation. 1 It is local human rights ordinance #201-99, created in 1999. ("Public Accommodations" are businesseses that provide the general public with goods and services. They include bakers, commercial photographers, renters of venues, and many other types of retail outlets.)

During 2012, the Lexington Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) sponsored their Lexington Pride Festival. They ordered some custom-designed T-shirts from a local manufacturer: Hands On Originals. The design included a large number 5 which we assume referred to this festival being the fifth such celebration. In addition, the caption "Lexington Pride Festival" was to be printed on the front with the number. The back was to contain a list the names of the fesival sponsors. 2,3

The managing owner of the company, Blain Adamson, refused to print the T-shirts on the basis that he disagreed with the gay pride message. He told a hearing officer at the area Human Rights Commission:

"Because of my Christian beliefs, I can’t promote that. Specifically, it’s the Lexington Pride Festival, the name, and that it’s advocating pride in being gay and being homosexual, and I can’t promote that message. It’s something that goes against my belief system."

Hands On Originals was represented before the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The ADF is a group of conservative Christian lawyers whose website describes their group's goal as:

"... transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and [opposite-sex] marriage and family."

The ADF has actively supported many public accommodations who sincerely oppose marriage equality, equal rights for the LGBT community, abortion access, etc. They apparently base their belief about sexual orientation on a conservative interpretation of the six or so "clobber passages" in the Bible. These passages have historically been used to condemn persons who have a homosexual or bisexual orientation whenever they have been sexually active.

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During late 2012-NOV, the Commission issued its ruling. They found that Hands on Originals had violated the local ordinance by refusing to print the T-shirts. 3

Aaron Baker, the GLSO's president, said:

"We are happy to finally have a declaration from the Human Rights Commission that Hands On Originals did discriminate and they should refrain from discriminating in the future. In some sense, I feel like we've gotten what we were looking for since the Human Rights Commission has agreed with us." 4

Attorney Jim Campbell, spokesperson for the ADF, said:

"Americans in the marketplace should not be subject to legal attacks simply for abiding by their beliefs. The Constitution prohibits the government from forcing business owners to promote messages they disagree with."

He apparently is referring to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees freedom of religious belief, religious assembly, religious proselyzing, etc. He seems to believe that the First Amendment also guarantees the right of individuals to translate their sincere religious beliefs into actions that actively discriminate against others.

There are two core conflicts in this and many similar human rights matters involving clashes between the owners of Public Accommodations and the LGBT community across the U.S.:

  • Does freedom of religious belief also extend to an company owner's freedom to translate those beliefs into actions that discriminate against others, in violation of local or state human rights ordinances or laws, and in violation of the Golden Rule? The latter rule is also known as the "Ethics of Reciprocity:" to treat others as one would wish to be treated by others. This is a foundational teachings of all major world religions, including Christianity, and by many secular systems of morality.

  • Does the provision of a custom-made product to a LGBT customer indicate that the Public Accommodation is actively promoting that product or message? For example, when a baker manufacturers a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, are they just making a cake or are they also involve the company in the promotion of same-sex marriage?

  • Does the provision of a message on custom-made T-Shirts or another custom product imply that the company is in favor of whatever the message says?

The GLSO were able to obtain their custom T-Shirts: Cincy Apparel of Cincinnati, OH prepared 500 shirts and donated them to the GLSO for their Festival.

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Decision by the Court of Appeals:

The decision of the Human Rights Commission was appealed to the Court of Appeals. On 2017-MAY-12, the Court issued its ruling. By a vote of 2:1, they decided that speech is not necessarly protected under the fairness ordinance. Chief Judge Joy A. Kramer wrote the majority opinon, saying that the ordinance does protect gays and lesbians from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. However, this protection does not extend to requiring a company like Hands On Originals to spread a group's message if the owner disagrees with it. She wrote:

"The right of free speech does not guarantee to any person the right to use someone else’s property. ..."

"In other words, the ‘service’ Hands On Originals offers is the promotion of messages. The ‘conduct’ Hands On Originals chose not to promote was pure speech. There is no contention that Hands On Originals is a public forum in addition to a public accommodation. Nothing in the fairness ordinance prohibits Hands On Originals, a private business, from engaging in viewpoint or message censorship." 5

Judge Jeff S. Taylor dissented. He wrote that refusing service because of personal objection to homosexuality is:

"... deliberate and intentional discriminatory conduct … in violation of the fairness ordinance. ..."

"The majority takes the position that the conduct of Hands On Originals in censoring the publication of the desired speech sought by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization does not violate the fairness ordinance."

"Effectively, that would mean that the ordinance protects gays or lesbians only to the extent they do not publicly display their same-gender sexual orientation. This result would be totally contrary to legislative intent and undermine the legislative policy of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, since the ordinance logically must protect against discriminatory conduct that is inextricably tied to sexual orientation or gender identity. Otherwise, the ordinance would have limited or no force or effect." 5

Ray Sexton, the Commission's executive director, said:

"Certainly when cases are decided like this, they may set a precedent for future cases. Hopefully that won’t happen here. But we’ll have to take a look at this and see how we’re going to handle it." 5

The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which is now called the Pride Community Services Organization, said in a statement that it was disheartened by the court ruling. They issued a statement saying"

"Hands On Originals’ position relies on the absurd argument that printing a T-shirt with the number 5 on it, with multicolored circles and the words ‘Lexington Pride Festival,’ somehow promotes ‘homosexual activity,’ and that it is their right to censor that ‘speech.' However, this ruling is not about free speech, it is about how LGBTQ+ persons are treated in their communities every day, as second class citizens." 5

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The Lexington Human Rights Commission decides to appeal the case to the State Supreme Court:

On 2017-MAY-15, the Commission held a meeting in executive session. They unanimously agreed to request the court to review the Court of Appeal's decision.

Chairperson Bob Orbach said:

" “I think we just wanted to fight on.  We wanted to go as far as we could go with this because in principal we believe we are right."

Commission Director Ray Sexton believes that the State Supreme Court will take up the issue.  He referred to a similar case in New Mexico where the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of a similar claim by a Human Rights Commission.  6

Conceivable, if the court agreed to review the case, then the loser could appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1.  "Know Your Rights," Lexington-Fayette-Urban-County Human Rights Commission, at:
  2. John Cheves, "Appeals court says Hands On Originals did not discriminate against gays," Lexington Herald Leader, 2017-MAY-12, at:
  3. The Human Rights Commission's "Determination of Probable Cause and Charge of Discrimination" can be read on the Lexington Herald Leader's website. Download a PDF file containing the Human Rights Commission's findings.
  4. Scott Sloan, "Commission sides with gay group against Hands On Originals," Lexington Herald Leader, 2012-NOV-26, at:
  5. John Cheves, "Appeals court says Hands On Originals did not discriminate against gays," Lexington Herald Leader, 2017-MAY-12, at:
  6. Stu Johnson, "Lexington HRC to Take Gay Pride T-Shirt Case to Ky Supreme Court," WEKU-FM. 2017-MAY-15, at:

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How you may have arrived here:

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Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2017-MAY-18
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