KENTUCKY: Court Rules That Print Shop Can Refuse Gay Pride Messages

A rare win for Alliance Defending Freedom:

A Kentucky court ruled Monday that a Lexington printer is free to decline to print messages that conflict with his religious beliefs and that the government cannot force him to do otherwise. The Lexington-Fayette Urban Co unty Human Rights Commission ruled last year that Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals must print messages that conflict with his faith on shirts that customers order from him. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Adamson appealed the ruling to the Fayette Circuit Court, which has now reversed the commission’s decision.  “The government can’t force citizens to surrender free-speech rights or religious freedom in order to run a small business, and this decision affirms that,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jim Campbell, who argued before the court in Hands On Originals v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission. “The court rightly recognized that the law protects Blaine’s decision not to print shirts with messages that conflict with his beliefs, and that no sufficient reason exists for the government to coerce Blaine to act against his conscience in this way.”

I’ll update this post when local news covers the ruling.

UPDATE: From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael issued a ruling Monday reversing the Lexington Human Rights Commission’s 2014 decision that Hands On Originals violated Lexington’s Fairness Ordinance. The ordinance, among other things, prohibits businesses from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation. Ray Sexton, executive director of the Lexington Human Rights Commission, said Monday that Ishmael’s ruling is part of a continuing process. “We don’t look at this as a loss,” Sexton said Monday. “We look at it as a one-one tie right now.”

The commission’s board would consider its next step at a board meeting Monday evening, Sexton said. He said the board is likely to appeal Ishmael’s decision. Ishmael’s ruling “is nothing we weren’t prepared for at the very beginning,” Sexton said. Ishmael’s ruling says that there is no evidence that Hands On Originals or its owners “refused to print the T-shirts in question based upon the sexual orientation of GLSA or its members or representatives. … Rather, it is clear beyond dispute that (Hands On Originals) 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.”

  • Phil

    So is this Kentucky or Tennessee?

    • JoeMyGodNYC

      My mistake. Too many posts open at same time!

  • tomfromthenews

    I think we should just let this one go. Otherwise, a court could rule that a baker must print anti-gay messages on a cake. Here in CO, a local bakery won the fight to refrain from printing an anti-gay message.

    • marshlc

      Yeah, I see a big difference between refusing to make that particular product for anyone, and refusing to make a product you regularly make, for a specific person or group of people, or for a specific event.

      This guy wouldn’t print that shirt no matter who asked him, and no matter what they were going to wear it to. For the wedding cakes and flowers, they’d make the cake/flower arrangement, just not sell it to a particular person.

  • VodkaAndPolitics

    I wish we could put all these fucking people on some zionist island, and let them have their christian sharia law, and leave the rest of us the fuck alone.

    • anne marie in philly

      I suggest a remote corner of Siberia; plenty of room to spew h8 there; AND the infighting over whose imaginary friend is better would provide entertainment!

    • lattebud

      There is lots of Native American reservation land they could sublease. Mind you, some of it is pretty horrendous in terms of weather, water, resources, and access.

  • Stev84

    Kentucky: proud to be a third world shit hole

    • Gene

      the print shop in question is in Lexington, which like the other large city in the state (the two make up 40 % of the states population) has a strong pro gay rights ordinance, and the Mayor of Lexington is openly gay and was when he ran for office (no coming out after the fact).

      this is very disappointing, but, its not fair to call KY a third world shit hole. Its not Mississippi

  • bkmn

    They need to think this through before going down that road.

  • Patrick Thomas

    I don’t think I have an issue with this one. Just as I wouldn’t want to force a gay-owned t-shirt shop to print a god hates fags message, or a muslim-owned t-shirt shop to print “Allah is a false god” t-shirt. Cake shop had to bake cake because it wasn’t an explicit message, but this is different.

    • MickinDetroit

      sure. and I get that..and the point of all of this, but what about the argument that even though there isn’t a written message, there is artistic content that differentiated the wedding cake from a birthday cake. Or in the instance of a photographer…there is more than just the product…there is a bit more going into it.

      • Guest

        I do not think the photographer’s refusal would hold as freedom of speech. Neither would a simple message on a wedding cake. If we are entering a period of litigation where everyone on both sides of the debate ends up suing each other, then it might serve to employ all these law school graduates who cannot get work right now.

        • Piet

          Do people put messages on wedding cakes these days? I can’t imagine that. A wedding topper, perhaps, but not words…

    • MBear

      Don’t look at the finger, look where it’s pointing

    • Mark

      I wanna be with Patrick…I mean….uh….I’m with Patrick on this one. Besides, we already know god loves fags.

      The more of these businesses that self-identify as religious/anti-gay, the better for us to make sure we don’t spend our money there. When their god closes one door, he opens another. 🙂

    • clay

      But take a look at the “message” on the T-shirt that supposedly advocated sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman:

      • Patrick Thomas

        So would an African-American-owned t-shirt shop be within its rights to refuse to print a “Lexington White Pride Festival” t-shirt?

        • Prixator

          False equivalence there. “White Pride” is absolutely about hate of non-whites.

          LGBT Pride is not about hating anyone, at all.

          • Patrick Thomas

            But a t-shirt that just says “White Pride Festival” is not on its facea hate-filled message. We interpret it as such because we know the intent behind it. Just as the Lexington print shop felt THEY knew the intent behind the Lexington Pride Festival.

          • Nexus1

            I’d like to play this game. Would a Croatian owned print shop have to print a Serbian Pride T-Shirt? The answer is yes. I will pose a scenario that’s a little more likely. Does a Catholic owned print shop have to print a T-shirt for the 1st Baptist church of God and Christ? The answer to that is yes, even if they strongly believe that anyone that is not Catholic is evil and going to hell and that their expression of faith disgusts them and is diametrically apposed to their belief system. The language in the favorable ruling for the Colorado Baker was that she didn’t have to put a derogatory message on the cake. If the image was derogatory or even semi pornographic or explicitly sexual in nature then the print shop may have had a more valid reason for refusal. He could say we don’t print derogatory messages or pornographic images which is within his right at a business, but since Clay posted the image that they were asked to print it’s clear that the print shop owner wasn’t asked to do anything like that. He basically just talked in code around his anti gay bigotry.

            People print things at print shops that they don’t necessarily agree with all the time, but they don’t get to refuse service unless it’s under certain legally outlined circumstances. This guy has won at this level, but I shudder at the long term implications of this and the ways it will be used to hurt all kinds of people down the line, not just LGBT’s. I thought we as a society had already outlined the parameters by which one can refuse to do their job when it comes to most groups in this society, but it looks like we will have to do some more outlining for LGBT people now.

            His defense is no different than a racist print shop owner refusing to print flyers for a BBQ and bake sale at an African American Pentecostal church because he disapproved of dancing and was certain that there would be some at the BBQ, when it was clear that his reason was because it was a flyer for a Black church. I give him credit though for finding an excuse that didn’t reference Leviticus.

      • Mark

        Ah dammit. I’m gonna have to back-peddle. Sorry, Patrick…but their “interpretation” is at play – not the actual message. Nobody is getting married. No one is having sex. Judge Ishmael got it wrong.

        And if a printer refused to print the 20 or 30 March On Washington placards for NOM?

      • Mark

        Well, if what I saw has been in place for awhile – then I am going to go stand by Patrick – again. On the “Hands On Originals” website it clearly says “christian outfitters” right under the company name. So….did our folks go do a little taunting?? And if they weren’t taunting – why the fuck would they give Pride money to the very people who hate us the most? Are they LCR wannabes ?

        • clay

          Does their website have an update date?

          • Mark

            Unfortunately, I’m not web savvy enough to know how to look/find that info. I had the same thought that they had added it since the lawsuit was filed.

    • BobSF_94117

      Call me back when a U.S. court allows a printer to refuse to print flyers for the local Baptist Church because he’s a Catholic.

      • Nexus1

        I should have read further down before I posted because we both used the same scenario. Great minds I guess. 😀

        • BobSF_94117

          Well, we can’t be great and psychic!


  • Doug105

    Anyone know if the judge was elected?

  • pj

    then post it on door so we can all go somewhere else. including the state of kentucky.

    • pj

      or tenn.

  • MarkOH

    Does anyone know what the message was that he felt went against his religious beliefs?

    • Herald

      Here it is from

      Thanks to Frank Butterfield for the link

      • SFBruce

        Thanks for posting this. The link Joe provides also shows it, but it’s worth having here. I certainly don’t see how this message conflicts with orthodox Christianity.

        • BobSF_94117

          It misuses God’s rainbow colors…

      • MarkOH

        GASP! How controversial. I guess since it advertises “Pride” that makes it against his religion.

  • JoeNCA

    Actually this is consistent with the Colorado bakery that refused to make a cake with a specific message: It isn’t discrimination to refuse to offer a certain product. It is discrimination to refuse to sell a product to one group and not another. Unless they’re selling gay pride shirts to one group and not another, there is no discrimination.

    “We don’t sell that product” = not discrimination.

    “We don’t sell that product to your kind” = discrimination.

    • tristram

      The product isn’t ‘gay pride shirts.’ It’s shirts with ink on them in an arrangement specified by the customer. The finished product is not the shop owner’s speech. It’s the buyer and wearer’s speech. I’d like to see a list of shirt slogans this guy has printed and those he has refused.

      • Patrick Thomas

        Yes – if you google “Sweet Cakes” and “Willamette Weekly” I think you will find an hysterical story documenting how the Oregon baker was happy to bake cakes for a Wiccan solstice celebration, a party for a recently divorced person, a celebration of successful human stem cell research…

    • clay

      Except that the T-shirt didn’t carry a specific message.

    • Big Difference

      Actually, no. The Colorado bakery refused to produce a product that had a death threat emblazoned across it. It had nothing to do with the product or who was asking for it. The Colorado baker was completely within her rights to refuse to print a death threat.

      The message this person was being asked to print simply said “Lexington Pride Festival”. Which one of those words offended him or impeded the practice of his religion? Nothing in that phrase can even be remotely construed as “..advocating sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman”.

      He refused because “Pride” is a “gay” thing and so the people asking must be gay. And as you so lucidly surmised, “We don’t sell that product to your kind”.

  • Ninja0980

    This actually isn’t a shocker to me.
    Since there are no statewide laws protecting LGBT folks from discrimination, not too hard for a court to say this guy can do what he did.
    More to the point, when it comes to printing messages, you CAN pick and choose what you want to do.
    As for the solution, if these bigots would simply put signs letting us know ahead of time they’ll refuse us service, that would go a long way in making sure we don’t have to suffer the indigity of being told to go someplace else.

    • TheManicMechanic

      They won’t do that, because they know it risks turning away people who might be gay and are looking for some “neutral” services, or repelling business from people who don’t believe in discrimination.

      • Herald

        They won’t but I wish they had courage to back their convictions / prejudices and post such a sign.

        • TheManicMechanic

          I have seen the Ichthus, or as I call it, the Fundie Fishy on display on some little shops here and there, and I know it most likely is run by people I want nothing to do with.

          • Guest

            They would be very startled and likely offended if they knew the history of that symbol. It comes from the Mother Goddess religions and is the sign of the vagina! I will never see it the same again.

            Christians took it and made it their own, but it still has this back story.

  • TreGibbs

    No issue with this.

    • teddy21

      Yep, same here. Even though the requested printed message couldn’t really be seen as “offensive” to anyone with a brain, when it comes to requiring someone to print words on something I support their right to refuse. A wedding cake is different in that words are not required. A wedding cake is something you sell to straight couples all the time.

      • TreGibbs

        Exactly – if a couple asked a baker to bake a cake and then write something offensive to the baker on it, the baker should say, “No – here’s a tube of frosting – write whatever you want on the cake.”

  • Guest

    I read (I can’t remember the source) that it is going to be difficult to force someone to write or print something they do not agree with due to freedom of speech, or something like this, even in the course of doing business. I am not sure if anything can be done about this. While refusing to do business with any group of people might be illegal, refusing to print a message or statement would not be.

    • Tor

      Wasn’t there a similar ruling regarding a baker that refused to write anti-gay messages on a cake?

  • A win in court shouldn’t prevent them for a win with GoFundMe. Martyrs fer Jeezus, unite!

  • Blake Jordan

    But I am sure the shop would happily print “God Hates Fags” and other anti-LGBT messages on their products…

  • Bj Lincoln

    He should have the right to say he will not write something he finds offensive. I have turned down jobs for a host of reasons including bad words and location of a tattoo. Not for religious reasons but to save them from a lifetime of wishing they were not so stupid.
    If the shirts were a simple rainbow with Pride on it then I have an argument. Religion is never a reason to discriminate.

  • delk

    Dear Blaine,

    Please post this on your website and your store windows. It sure is a lot easier for me to stay out of your business if I know you do not want my business.

    Also could you be a good christian and recommend a good printer that will accept my business? Maybe you could post that as well. You know, to avoid any future misunderstandings.

    Customer with money and printing needs.

  • Tor

    It was just a pride logo. How is that about non-marital sexual activity?

  • noni

    Apparently offensive.

    And connotates sex outside one man one woman marriage?

    • John30013

      I agree in principle that a print shop should not be forced to print messages that would be deemed offensive or hateful or advocate illegal activity. However, having seen this design, I have to say the judge got it wrong. There’s no message here about sexual activity or marriage at all. Neither the judge not the printer gets to impose their suppositions about the message on the customer. One can certainly express pride in bring LGBT without making any commentary about marriage equality or same-sex sexual relations.

      If a similar order came in for shirts saying “Lexington city pride 5”, the printer likely would have no problem with it.

      • Schlukitz

        You nailed it.

    • Schlukitz

      Truly. What does a pride festival have to do with sex?

  • James

    How can this be legal??? HOW????

  • clay

    . . . and this, boys and girls, is why you always try to get a printer to be one of your sponsors.

  • lattebud

    From Hands On Originals Website

    “Right to Refusal

    Hands On Originals both employs and conducts business with people of all genders, races, religions, sexual preferences, and national origins. However, due to the promotional nature of our products, it is the prerogative of Hands On Originals to refuse any order that would endorse positions that conflict with the convictions of the ownership.”

    Note they are very careful about refusing work, not the person requesting the work. Some lawyer helped them out there. Wonder if there are older versions of their Terms that can be found?

  • Michael C

    I actually agree with this decision. If a baker can refuse to decorate a cake with anti-gay sentiments, a t-shirt printer is permitted to refuse to print shirts with a pro-gay sentiment.

    • Schlukitz

      How about printing shits with a pro-Jewish, pro-black, pro-atheist, pro-Muslim, pro-Wiccan, etc. sentiment?

  • Schlukitz

    “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.”

    So technically speaking and using that illogical logic, the owners would have the right to deny service to anyone advocating sexual activity between one man and one woman who are not married and living together in sin?

    This is pure unmitigated bullshit. The judge is clearly twisting the law to support his bigotry and homophobia.

    • franklinb23

      So what you’re saying is that print shops should only be forced to print something if YOU agree with the message?

      • Schlukitz

        Please do not put words in my mouth. It’s most disingenuous.

        If that is what you got from reading my post, then it would appear that you really need to brush-up on your reading comprehension skills.

  • Jim

    Everybody should read the 1st amendment right now: free speech is an inalienable right. Nobody–and that includes human rights commissions–can force you to say, write, or print words that you don’t want to say, write, or print. Period. No appeals. How did the Lexington Human Rights Commission not know this? Haven’t they heard of the US Constitution? Don’t they know any lawyers who could instruct them in the relevant case law? They know it now, so they’d better shape up and fly right. They can regulate commerce; they don’t get to regulate free speech. That’s good for everybody.

    • Ramona Love

      SCOTUS is going to eat this argument alive lol

  • Brian in Valdosta

    Considering that the message is an integral part of the print job itself, I would say that I agree with this decision.

    We can, of course, look at it this way: why would anyone want to give his/her money to a company that didn’t support equal rights? It does not feel good to be turned away for such an arbitrary reason. But there it is.

  • Dan Robinson

    Slight aside: I’m wondering what, if any effect a pro-marriage ruling from SCOTUS might have on these discrimination cases.

    • clay

      more fuel for getting ENDA’s and other accommodations protections across the board.

  • sword

    This decision is pretty consistent from what courts have decided. Products are different from speech. You may be legally forced to sell a cake, but you don’t have to put words on it.

    • KnownDonorDad

      Agreed. They’re not turning down the print job because the clients are gay (a straight person could easily ask for a pro-LGBT message). It would be like asking for a wedding cake that says “Suck it, Southern Baptists!” It’s not the cake per se, it’s the message. Now, turning it around, the printers are in no way immune from the impact (negative or positive) on their business that may result from their stance.

  • JCF

    A printer is definitely the bleeding edge (compared to florists or bakers) re Free Speech issues. Still, may be overturned.

  • EscherEnigma

    So much for the “RFRA can’t override non-discrimination laws!” we heard about during the Indiana fiasco.

  • douglas

    And here we were led to believe that if only it wasn’t about gay MARRIAGE then we would be more than happy to serve the gays. This isvtheir real agenda. They dont want to serve us or sell to us in any way, shape or form.

  • crankyd