Kentucky Supreme Court Upholds Religious Liberty in Christian Print Shop Case

On Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in favor of Lexington promotional print shop owner Blaine Adamson, concluding a seven-year legal battle.

In 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) asked Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals, to print expressive shirts promoting the Lexington Pride Festival. Adamson politely declined, explaining that the requested message conflicted with his Biblical beliefs and he could not in good conscience fulfill the order. He then offered to connect the organization with a comparable print shop.

The GLSO instead filed a discrimination complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission—despite eventually receiving the shirts for free from another printer. The commission ruled against Adamson and ordered him to undergo “diversity training” and to begin printing messages contrary to his religious beliefs.

In May of 2017, the Kentucky Court of Appeals rescinded the commission’s ruling, stating that Adamson was free to decline orders that would require him to print messages incompatible with his Christian values.

The Human Rights Commission appealed the decision to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

In Thursday’s ruling, the state’s high court sided with Adamson, writing in its opinion, “This matter must be dismissed because the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization … lacked statutory standing to assert a claim against Hands On Originals under the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government ordinance.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice David Buckingham said, “Hands On was in good faith objecting to the message it was being asked to disseminate.” He continued by quoting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision from Janus v. AFSCME, “When speech is compelled … individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions. Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning.”

“Today’s decision makes clear that this case never should have happened,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jim Campbell, who argued before the Kentucky Supreme Court on behalf of Adamson and Hands On. “For more than seven years, government officials used this case to turn Blaine’s life upside down, even though we told them from the beginning that the lawsuit didn’t comply with the city’s own legal requirements. The First Amendment protects Blaine’s right to continue serving all people while declining to print messages that violate his faith.”

“The commission wasted taxpayer dollars and judicial resources by pressing this complaint in the first place and then appealing it all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court,” added co-counsel Bryan Beauman of Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PPLC. “We hope that going forward the commission will respect the free speech rights of its citizens.”

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom