How Well Do You Know Blaine Adamson and the Hands On Originals Case?
Blaine Adamson is a regular American.
He has a home in Kentucky, where he lives with his wife and kids. He’s a small business owner. His family is involved in their local church. And he roots for the University of Kentucky basketball team.
But unlike most Americans, Blaine was involved in a lawsuit for over seven years, fighting for the right to live and work consistently with his beliefs.
Here’s his story.
Who is Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals?
Blaine has a passion for creating T-shirts that inspire people—shirts with designs that people can’t wait to put on.
“From the beginning, it was always about the design,” Blaine says. He recalls cheesy Christian shirts that he’s seen: “There were shirts that were a knock-off of the Coca-Cola slogan, ‘Have a Coke and a smile,’ and people would change that to say, ‘Have Jesus and a smile.’ The shirts were so cheesy. I wanted to create something that people actually want to wear.”
In 2008, Blaine Adamson became the managing owner of Hand On Originals, a printing company in Lexington, Kentucky.
When Blaine took the reins, Hands On Originals was half a million dollars in debt. The business was failing, and Blaine worried that it might have to shut down. After trying everything he knew, Blaine gave everything over to God. “I said, ‘God I’ve tried everything. ... I just need help. I need your help, or this [business] is done,’” Blaine recalls.
The orders started pouring in. By 2011, Blaine had written the check that paid off Hands On Originals’ debt—for which he gives God all the credit.
But then came 2012.
Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals
In 2012, Blaine got a phone call from the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO). The group wanted Hands On Originals to print shirts promoting the local pride festival.
Blaine determined that he could not print those shirts because they express messages in conflict with his faith. But he offered to connect the GLSO to another print shop that would create the shirts for the same price he would have charged.
This wasn’t an unusual thing for him to do. Blaine often does the same thing for projects with messages that conflict with his beliefs. From 2010 to 2012 alone, Hands On Originals declined at least 13 orders because of their messages, including shirts promoting a violent message, shirts promoting a strip club, and pens promoting a sexually explicit video.
While Blaine serves every person, he cannot express every message. That’s why he offered to connect the GLSO to another print shop that he knew would create the shirts. But that was not enough for the GLSO.
The GLSO publicized Blaine’s decision, which led to protests and boycotts against Hands On Originals. Blaine received hateful emails, phone calls, and Facebook comments. And several large customers began pulling their business.
The GLSO also filed a discrimination complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, which ruled against Blaine and ordered him to undergo “diversity training” and print messages that conflict with his religious beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom represented Blaine and asked that the courts uphold his religious freedom.
In 2015, the Fayette County Circuit Court ruled that “[t]here is no evidence in this record that [Hands on Originals] or its owners refused to print the t-shirts in question based upon the sexual orientation of GLSO or its members or representatives that contacted HOO. Rather, 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.”
And a Kentucky appeals court agreed. Yet, the Commission kept appealing the case. Finally, in 2019, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in Blaine’s favor yet again and dismissed the case because the GLSO did not have a legal right to sue Hands On Originals. That put an end to Blaine’s years-long legal battle.
- 2012: The GLSO filed a complaint against Blaine Adamson.
- November 2014: The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission ruled that Blaine must print messages that conflict with his beliefs when customers ask him to do so.
- April 2015: A Kentucky circuit court struck down the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission decision in favor of Blaine.
- May 2017: The Kentucky appeals court also ruled that Blaine is free to decline orders that would require him to print messages that conflict with his religious beliefs.
- June 2017: The Commission appealed the decision to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
- August 2019: Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys argued Blaine’s case in front of the Kentucky Supreme Court.
- October 2019: The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in favor of Blaine and dismissed the claims against Hands On Originals after concluding the GLSO did not have a legal right to sue Blaine’s business.
The First Amendment of the Constitution protects every American’s right to create messages consistently with their beliefs.
If the government can tell Blaine what to create, it can do the same to any of us. And if the government can do that, then we do not have true freedom.
That’s something two lesbian owners of a print shop in New Jersey understand, and they went on national television to support Blaine. The kind of coercion that the government sought to impose in Blaine’s case violates the constitutional freedoms of creative professionals.
Thankfully, the Kentucky Supreme Court dismissed the case against Hands On Originals, affirming that the GLSO did not have a legal right to sue Blaine or his business for declining to print a message that violate his religious beliefs.
The bottom line
No matter what you believe, we should all be able to agree that the government should not have the power to force anyone to express messages they disagree with.
Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals shares his story.
Blaine and his Alliance Defending Freedom attorney discuss his case.
ADF team members contributed to the writing and publication of this article.