On Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a unanimous 6-0 ruling in favor of a Lexington-based print shop owner who refused to print messages that violated his deeply held religious beliefs.
The case dates back to 2012, when the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission against print shop owner Blaine Adamson, who, citing his Christian beliefs, declined a request to print shirts promoting the Lexington Gay Pride Festival. Adamson reportedly declined politely and referred the organization to another printer who was willing to print the shirts. The GLSO complained that Adamson was discriminating against LGBT customers by refusing to promote the event.
In 2014, the commission ruled that Adamson must print messages conflicting with his religious convictions. The court system subsequently ruled repeatedly against the commission’s order, until the case eventually made its way to the state’s highest court.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who helped represent Adamson in the case, maintained that the business owner has demonstrated that he “serves all people, including LGBT customers,” as he did when his shop, Hands On Originals, printed promotional materials for an openly lesbian singer who performed at the Lexington’s 2012 Pride festival. Adamson also has taken a consistent stand on the issue of free speech, ADF underscored, refusing to print other messages that likewise conflict with his Christian beliefs, including shirts advertising a strip club, shirts containing violent messages, and “pens promoting a sexually explicit video.”
ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell, who argued on behalf of Adamson in front of the Kentucky Supreme Court, said in a statement released Thursday that the unanimous decision in the Christian shop owner’s favor “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 Campbell, in a statement included in an ADF news release Thursday. “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.”
The ruling by Kentucky’s highest court, ADF argues in the release, “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.”
The legal defense organization also notes that the valuing of free speech rights crosses the left-right divide. Adamson 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,” ADF highlights in the release.
Other states expressed support for Adamson’s First Amendment right to decline printing messages that violate his beliefs. Thirteen friend-of-the-court briefs were sent to the Supreme Court supporting Adamson, ADF notes, while only one was sent in support of the commission’s initial ruling.
In a statement, attorney Bryan Beauman, who worked with ADF on the case, chided the commission for having “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.”