Americans enjoy a wide berth of freedoms guaranteed to us by our Constitution, and our government is meant to protect and uphold those liberties. But what happens when people use the government to harass a fellow American and force that person to yield his or her freedom?
In 2012, Blaine Adamson, managing owner of Hands On Originals, declined to print t-shirts promoting a local gay pride festival. He referred the requesting group to another printer that would create the shirts for the same price, and that should have been the end of it. Instead, Blaine has spent the past seven years defending his right to live and work free from unjust government punishment. Blaine’s case was heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court today.
Let’s take a look.
Hands On Originals is located in Lexington, Kentucky, and has been printing promotional items, including t-shirts, for years. Blaine serves everyone; he just doesn’t print all messages. From 2010 to 2012, in fact, Blaine turned down at least 13 orders because of their messages. Those requests included shirts advertising a strip club, shirts with a violent message, and pens promoting a sexually explicit video. Blaine also declined a church’s request to print a picture of Jesus on a bucket of chicken.
Nobody had a problem with any of that.
But when Blaine declined to print shirts with a message promoting a local gay pride festival, the heavy hand of a government commission came down. Even though Blaine offered to connect the requesting organization—the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO)—to another printer that would have created the shirts for the same price, GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission and alleged illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.
But Blaine did not decline the t-shirt because of who was asking; instead, he declined because of what the t-shirt would say. Indeed, like his other message-based decisions, he declined this order because its message conflicted with his deeply held religious beliefs.
Although a trial court and a court of appeals both ruled that Blaine did not discriminate and cannot be forced to print messages that conflict with his conscience, the government appealed the case to the Kentucky Supreme Court, where Alliance Defending Freedom argued Blaine’s case today. Here’s the key point as ADF explained in its brief to the Kentucky Supreme Court:
The right to decide what to say and what not to say—to choose which ideas to express—is core to human freedom…. It explains why most recoil at the thought of forcing a Democrat to make signs for a Republican politician, a gay man to create posters opposing same-sex marriage, a Jewish woman to make shirts celebrating German pride, or anyone to create flyers for a cause at odds with their conscience. And it establishes why the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission…cannot require Hands On Originals…and its Managing Owner, Blaine Adamson, to print messages conflicting with their faith….
Such coercion not only violates the law, it destroys civility. That is painfully obvious in the ongoing crusade to punish Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips.
Blaine’s case reminds us that we should be able to discuss our differences reasonably, treat each other with respect, agree to disagree, and ensure that everyone has the freedom to follow their own conscience when it comes to important issues. So if Blaine wins, we all win. This is, after all, America, a land where every creative professional should be free to live out their faith and views, free of misguided government punishment.