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Key Decision Brings Hope for Rights of Conscience Cases Coast to Coast

By Alan Sears posted on:
October 17, 2017

In the increasingly uphill legal struggle to ensure the rights of Christians in America to operate their private businesses in accordance with their faith, Blaine Adamson just secured an incredible foothold.

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Adamson is the owner of Hands On Originals (HOO) in Lexington, Kentucky. He has been buried by a legal assault and an avalanche of accusations ever since he politely declined to print shirts promoting the Lexington Pride Festival, hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO). Adamson regularly does business with and employs people who identify as homosexual, so his decision was based solely on his constitutionally protected freedom to decline to convey a message with which he disagrees, not on any characteristic of the customer.

In fact, Adamson offered to put the GLSO in touch with another printer who would produce the shirts they wanted for the same price. But, no – they wanted to force him to print them. So, they filed a  complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission. (And, incidentally, wound up getting their shirts printed for free by yet another printer.)

Last year, the commission ruled that Adamson has to print messages that violate his conscience. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Adamson appealed that ruling to the Fayette Circuit Court, which last month 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 Adamson’s case before the court. “The court rightly recognized that the law protects Blaine’s decision not to print 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.”

“There is no evidence . . . that HOO 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,” the court wrote in its decision. “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.”

“HOO and its owners have a [c]onstitutional right to refrain from speaking, just as much as they enjoy the [c]onstitutional right to speak freely,” the court said. “It is their [c]onstitutional right to hold dearly and not be compelled to be part of the advocacy of messages opposed to their sincerely held Christian beliefs.”

That’s a common-sense observation that ADF would love to see many other courts and commissions pick up on – in Colorado, for instance, where the state’s Civil Rights Commission penalized cake artist Jack Phillips for demurring, out of religious conviction, to invest his creativity in a cake for a same-sex wedding.

One member of the commission actually called religious freedom a “despicable piece of rhetoric” that slave owners, Nazis, and Phillips used to “hurt others.” The commission then ruled that Phillips and his staff are required by law to a) create cakes for same-sex celebrations, b) re-educate themselves on the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act’s requirement that artists endorse all views, and c) file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years, explaining Phillips’s reasons for declining any request for his talents. The objective: to ensure Phillips has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

Curiously, when three other Denver bakeries recently declined to create cakes for customers whose message opposed same-sex unions – citing their own conscientious objections – the Civil Rights Commission ruled in their favor; thereby respecting their right not to be forced to violate their consciences.

“The commission’s inconsistent rulings mean that the owners of these three cake shops may run them according to their beliefs, while Jack Phillips cannot,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “He risks losing his life-long business altogether if he continues to run it consistent with his faith. Such blatant religious discrimination has no place in our society.”

That discrimination has already trampled justice in rights-of-conscience cases from Hawaii to New York. The decision by the Kentucky court is a crucial legal break in the relentless persecution Christian business owners, medical professionals, and creative artists have been facing for several years now, as they stand for their religious convictions against an increasingly hostile culture. ADF attorneys have successfully defended 20 Christian business owners and organizations who have challenged the Obamacare HHS abortion pill mandate – this victory in Kentucky is one more hopeful sign that rights of conscience can still be affirmed in America.

The outcomes of all these cases have serious implications for the religious freedom of Christians all over this country – including your family, friends, and fellow church members. Please join me in praying earnestly for more judges with the wisdom and courage to uphold the constitutional protections created to preserve religious liberty.

Alan Sears

Alan Sears


Alan Sears served as founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, building on his experience as longtime leader of the organization to strengthen alliances, forge new relationships, and develop ADF resources.

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