The Kentucky court put religious freedom first, choosing not to elevate local discrimination ordinances above the first amendment.
Kentucky Lower Court
“There is no evidence in this record that [the company] or its owners refused to print the T-shirts in question based upon the sexual orientation of the GLSO or its members,” he [Judge Ishmael] said.
“Rather, it is clear beyond dispute that [the company] and its owners declined to print the T-shirts in question because of the message advocating sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.”…
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission took up the case and ruled that the company’s refusal to print the T-shirts was discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The commission also found that the local fairness ordinance did not violate free speech rights or rights to the free exercise of religion.
In reversing that determination, Judge Ishmael said the commission’s conclusions were “in direct contrast to well-established precedent.”..
In addition, he ruled that the company and its owners enjoy a right to freely exercise their religion, which includes not facing government actions that substantially burden those rights. Ishmael said there was no showing of a compelling government interest that would justify forcing company officials to violate their religious beliefs.
The judge said GLSO was able to obtain its T-shirts from another firm at a substantially reduced price or, perhaps, for free. CSMonitor
Kentucky Court of Appeals
The ruling by the Kentucky Court of Appeals favored the business owner. A crucial difference in this case was the expressive nature of the service denied: literally words on a shirt.
In a split vote, a three-judge panel concluded that the store, Hands on Originals, couldn’t be forced to print a message with which the owner disagreed.
The dispute started in 2012 when Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in Kentucky asked Hands on Originals to make T-shirts with the name and logo of a pride festival.
Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands on Originals, said he refused to print the shirts because it violated his business’s policy of not printing messages that endorse positions in conflict with his convictions.
Mr. Adamson offered examples of other orders he refused, such as shirts featuring the word “bitches” or a depiction of Jesus dressed as a pirate.
The gay-rights group filed a complaint with the Lexington Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, which in 2014 ordered Mr. Adamson to make the shirts.
Friday’s decision affirmed an earlier ruling from a lower court. The commission, which brought the appeal, said the store was in violation of a local “fairness” ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals, one level below the state’s Supreme Court, disagreed, ruling that the conduct by the business wasn’t discrimination, rather a decision not to promote certain speech.
One judge on the panel dissented, saying he thought Mr. Adamson’s shop had engaged in “deliberate and intentional discriminatory conduct.”
In other lawsuits against religious business owners, courts have rejected First Amendment defenses. WallStreetJournal