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Kentucky printer asks state high court to leave in place decision affirming expressive freedom

ADF attorneys represent Lexington printer Blaine Adamson, Hands On Originals

Wednesday, Jul 12, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Lexington printer asked the Kentucky Supreme Court Tuesday to leave in place an appeals court ruling that affirms his freedom to decline orders with messages that violate his religious beliefs.

In a response to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission’s request for the state high court to review the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruling for printer Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals, ADF attorneys argue that “the Commission cannot force HOO to print messages that conflict with its owners’ beliefs. Such a straightforward legal question with consensus across ideological lines does not warrant this Court’s attention.”

“Americans should always have the freedom to say no when asked to express ideas that violate their conscience,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell. “Blaine is willing to serve all people, but he cannot print all messages. The two lower courts properly affirmed that Blaine can’t be forced to print words and logos that express ideas in conflict with his faith. The Kentucky Supreme Court should leave those decisions in place.”

In 2014, the commission ruled that Adamson must print messages that conflict with his faith when customers ask him to do so. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys appealed the order to the Fayette Circuit Court, which reversed the commission’s ruling and affirmed Adamson’s freedom to live according to his faith. The commission then appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals in Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals. The appeals court upheld the circuit court’s decision.

The case began in 2012 when Adamson declined to print shirts with a message promoting the Lexington Pride Festival, an event that the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization hosted. Although he declined to print the shirts because of the message that would have been on them, he nevertheless offered to refer the GLSO to another printer who would have made the shirts. Unsatisfied, the GLSO filed a complaint with the commission—despite eventually receiving the shirts for free from another printer.

The appeals court opinion written by Chief Judge Joy A. Kramer found that Adamson did not engage in unlawful discrimination. She explained that no evidence demonstrates that Hands On Originals “refused any individual the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations it offered to everyone else because the individual in question had a specific sexual orientation or gender identity.” In fact, Adamson regularly does business with and employs people who identify as LGBT.

The concurring opinion by Judge Debra Hembree Lambert said that Hands On Originals is protected by Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Statute, and that Adamson has the right under that law to operate his business consistently with his “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“Rarely are cases that involve expressive freedom, religious liberty, and LGBT rights so clear cut that they unite people with opposing ideological perspectives. But this case does,” the ADF response filed with the Kentucky Supreme Court explains. “Lesbian print-shop owners, LGBT advocates, and groups that support gay rights have joined with free-speech and religious-liberty groups, and they all agree that the Commission cannot force HOO to print messages that conflict with its owners’ beliefs.”

As the response adds, “the Court of Appeals decided this case based on the well-established distinction between unlawfully refusing services because of a customer’s protected status and lawfully declining to produce speech because of its message. This distinction has such deep roots in the law that even the Commission’s Executive Director affirmed it under oath in this very case.”

ADF-allied attorney Bryan Beauman of Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PLLC, of Lexington is serving as co-counsel for Adamson and Hands on Originals.
  • Pronunciation guide: Beauman (BOH’-min)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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