Kentucky Supreme Court Sides With Printer Who Refused To Make Gay Pride Shirts, Citing Religious Beliefs

The case was thrown out on a technicality.

An employee presses tshirts at a factory
Rush Order Tees / Pexels

The case was thrown out on a technicality.

The Kentucky Supreme Court has sided with a printer who refused to make gay pride T-shirts because doing so would have violated his religious beliefs, The Associated Press reports. However, the case was thrown out on a technicality, and not its actual merits.

Back in 2012, Lexington’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) approached Hands-On Originals, a Lexington print shop, to order shirts for the upcoming 2012 Gay Pride Festival. As The Lexington Herald-Leader reported at the time, the shirts were to feature a stylized number 5 on the front and the words “Lexington Pride Festival,” as well as the names of the event’s sponsors, on the back.

Aaron Baker, president of GLSO’s board of directors, said that the organization sought bids from several printers in the area, but landed on Hands-On Originals because the outfit offered the best deal. However, Baker says that he got a phone call a while later from Hands-On Originals co-owner Blaine Adamson, who said that the order would be declined because “we’re a Christian organization.” Adamson had also referred the organization to another printer that would print the shirts at the same price that Hands-On Originals had offered.

“Due to the promotional nature of our products, it is the prerogative of the company to refuse any order that would endorse positions that conflict with the convictions of the ownership,” Adamson said in a statement to local media.

Baker, however, took the matter to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission. The Commission, for its part, typically represents individuals, not organizations, but in this case, agreed to take up Baker’s cause. The Commission ordered Adamson to print the shirts and attend diversity training.

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Baker sued, and two lower courts have sided with him. In 2016, an appeals court ruled that Hands-On Originals was subject to the city’s fairness laws, but that the laws didn’t prohibit a private business from “engaging in viewpoint or message censorship.”

This week, Kentucky‘s Supreme Court threw out GLSO’s appeal, effectively letting the two lower court rulings stand. However, the decision was not made based on the merits of the case, but on a technicality. The Court found that GLSO had no standing to sue because Lexington’s fairness laws are meant to protect individuals, not organizations.

“While this result is no doubt disappointing to many interested in this case and its potential outcome, the fact that the wrong party filed the complaint makes the discrimination analysis almost impossible to conduct, including issues related to freedom of expression and religion,” the Court said in its ruling.