Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals
Description: Lexington, Kentucky, promotional printer Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals declined to print expressive shirts promoting the Lexington Pride Festival, hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, because he did not want to convey the messages printed on the shirts. He nevertheless offered to connect the organization to another printer that would produce the shirts for the same price that he would have charged. Unsatisfied, GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission and alleged illegal discrimination despite eventually obtaining the shirts for free from another printer.
KY Supreme Court rules in favor of print shop owner who stood for free speech
“Today’s decision makes clear that this case never should have happened. 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,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell, who argued before the state high court on Adamson’s behalf earlier this year. “The First Amendment protects Blaine’s right to continue serving all people while declining to print messages that violate his faith. Justice David Buckingham recognized this in his concurring opinion, and no member of the court disagreed with that.”
ADF attorneys explain that the Hands On Originals decision highlights why the U.S. Supreme Court should take up the important First Amendment issue at the heart of the case and decide whether governments may force creative professionals who serve everyone to print messages or create art that violates their beliefs. Last month, Washington floral artist Barronelle Stutzman asked the Supreme Court to hear her case and resolve that question. This is the second time she has petitioned the high court. And Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips is facing the third lawsuit that has been filed against him. Meanwhile, the Arizona Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit both recently ruled in favor of other creative professionals represented by ADF attorneys.
Throughout Adamson’s case, he received broad public support, including from lesbians who own a print shop in New Jersey and agree that promotional printers shouldn’t be forced to print messages they consider objectionable. In addition, the Kentucky Supreme Court received 13 friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Adamson, including briefs from Gov. Matt Bevin and 10 states. The court received only one brief in support of the government.
The Kentucky Supreme Court wrote in its opinion in Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals that “this matter must be dismissed because the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, the original party to bring this action before the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, lacked statutory standing to assert a claim against Hands On Originals under the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government ordinance.” [abbreviations omitted]
In a concurring opinion, Justice David Buckingham said that “Hands On was in good faith objecting to the message it was being asked to disseminate.” He also explained, quoting what the U.S. Supreme Court wrote last year in Janus v. AFSCME, that “[w]hen speech is compelled…, individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions. Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning….” No member of the court disagreed with what Buckingham wrote.
The case began in 2012 when Adamson declined to print shirts with a message promoting the Lexington Pride Festival, an event that the GLSO hosted. Although Adamson declined to print the shirts because of the message that would have been on them, he offered to connect the GLSO to another printer who would have made the shirts. Adamson has printed other materials for a lesbian musician who performed at the festival.
The GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission—despite eventually receiving the shirts for free from another printer. In 2014, the commission ruled that Adamson must print messages that conflict with his faith when customers ask him to do so. After that, all three levels of the state court system ruled in Adamson’s favor.
“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,” said ADF-allied attorney and co-counsel Bryan Beauman of Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PLLC. “We hope that going forward the commission will respect the free speech rights of its citizens.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.