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Kentucky T-shirt printer that wouldn’t make gay pride shirts vindicated by court

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A Kentucky T-shirt company had the right not to print this T-shirt, a court ruled.

The day before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a historic same-sex marriage case, a Kentucky court ruled that a Christian T-shirt company has the right not to print gay pride festival shirts.

Hands on Originals (HOO), a Christian T-shirt company in Lexington, Ky., was asked to print shirts by Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) for a 2012 pride festival. When the company turned down the order, the GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission. Though the commission found in favor of the GLSO, Judge James D. Ishmael of the Fayette Circuit Court on Monday reversed the ruling.

“This Court does not fault the Commission in its interest in insuring citizens have equal access to services but that is not what this case is all about,” Ishmael wrote.

[Printing business has First Amendment and RFRA right to refuse to print gay pride festival T-shirts]

Ishmael made a distinction between a company choosing not to print a T-shirt because of the sexual orientation of a potential customer and choosing not to print a T-shirt because of its message.

The owners of the company “are Christians who believe that the Holy Bible is the inspired Word of God and that they should strive to live consistently with its teachings,” the opinion read. As the company’s Web site states: “It is the prerogative of Hands On Originals to refuse any order that would endorse positions that conflict with the convictions of the ownership.”

“It is clear beyond dispute that HOO 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,” he wrote. “The well established Constitutional rights of HOO and its owners on this issue is well settled.”

The court noted that HOO had also turned down orders for “a strip club, pens promoting a sexually explicit video, and shirts containing a violence related message” — in other words, shirts that it did not agree with that had nothing to do with homosexuality.

The court also found that HOO was “entitled to assert claims” under a Kentucky statute that’s been compared to Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion,” the statute reads.

Alliance Defending Freedom senior legal counsel Jim Campbell comments on the recommended ruling issued in Baker v. Hands On Originals. (Video: Alliance Defending Freedom)

The GLSO was unhappy.

“The GLSO is disappointed at Judge Ishmael’s ruling,” the organization said in a statement posted to its Web site. “We feel that this is a reminder that there are still many out there who feel that their citizenship is worth more than that of members of the LGBTQ+ community.  This is merely another battle on what has been a long road to full equality for the LGBTQ+ community; which, despite this decision, has been trending toward equality for all.”

The court’s reasoning was praised by religious freedom advocates and at least one legal analyst.

“The analysis seems quite right to me,” Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy wrote. “I expect there will be an appeal, so we’ll see what the Kentucky appellate courts have to say about this.”

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,” Jim Campbell, senior legal counsel for the Alliance for Freedom, an Arizona-based nonprofit that appealed the Commission’s ruling, said as the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. “… The court rightly recognized that the law protects [HOO owner Blaine Adamson’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.”

“We are pleased to see some courts are still acknowledging the First Amendment’s right to religious freedom,” Martin Cothran, spokesman for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, said in a statement. “And that the ‘PC police’ are not quite powerful enough to convince courts that it doesn’t exist.”

Others were less diplomatic.

“Time to celebrate judge’s decision against #GLSO, the homosexual pigs who tried a shakedown of Hands on Originals printing,” one Twitter user wrote.

The opinion is available here.