Speech is speech! At least we have the settled for the moment, anyway, for this one case. The circuit court for Fayette County in Kentucky has ruled that the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission erred when it determined that a Christian T-shirt company discriminated when it refused to print shirts for a gay pride event.
In 2012 a Lexington, Kentucky, gay organization filed a complaint against Hands On Originals, a shirt company who wears its Christianity right on its site, if not on its sleeves (sorry, couldn't resist). The organization asked for Hands On Originals to make shirts for their 2012 gay pride festival. The shirt company declined, because they didn't support the message the group wanted printed. The group then accused the company of violating the county's public accommodation laws, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The response from Hands On was that they weren't discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. They were refusing to print a message with which they disagreed. This is a case that sounds familiar. In Colorado, a Christian man tried to show some sort of bakery hypocrisy when he tried to get a Colorado bakery to make a cake for him with an anti-gay message. The bakery refused. He complained, clearly trying to draw a similarity to those bakeries who were being cited and fined for refusing to make wedding cakes for gay customers.
But the mistake he made was demanding the cakes say something particular. Colorado dismissed his complaint. He was not being discriminated against just for being a Christian. Rather, the bakery could not be compelled to say something it found offensive.
And so it goes with Hands On Originals. They were not discriminating against gay customers. They were declining to publish statements with which the company disagreed, something they've done several times in the past, according to court documents.
Originally the county Human Rights Commission actually ruled against the shirt company, stating that forcing Hands On Originals to print the shirts "does not violate the Respondent's (HOO) right to free speech, does not compel it to speak, and does not burden the Respondent's (HOO) right to the free expression of religion."
Judge James Ishmael Jr.'s response is to simply point out that the Human Rights Commission is completely and utterly wrong. He does start by saying "With all due respect," which I assume is the circuit court judicial opinion equivalent of getting kicked directly in the teeth. He says the conclusions are "factually incorrect" with respect to both Supreme Court interpretations of the federal law and the state's own laws. Kentucky does have a religious freedom regulation, and the judge invokes it, along with the precedent recently set by the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling.
Ishmael then ordered the decision reversed and all charges against Hands On Originals dismissed. Read the full ruling here (pdf).
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