Kentucky Printer Wins Fight To Refuse To Print Pro-LGBT Shirts

But the technical nature of the decision might not stop future lawsuits.


A Kentucky printer has won a fight over whether it can be forced to print t-shirts for a local LGBT group. It won on a technicality that doesn't address the underlying conflict, so more lawsuits over the issue may be on their way. But one judge on the court made it clear that such suits are not likely to succeed.

The case goes back to 2012, when a Lexington-based print shop named Hands On Originals declined to print t-shirts for the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO), for an upcoming pride festival. The owners of Hands On say they will not print messages for customers that go against their religious beliefs, and their website highlights their Christianity as part of their marketing.

The group got its t-shirts elsewhere, but it also filed a complaint with the Lexington-Urban County Human Rights Commission arguing that Hands On discriminated against it because of its members sexual orientation. Hands On responded that it wasn't discriminating against gay customers but was simply refusing to print messages it found objectionable.

The Lexington-Urban County Human Rights Commission initially ruled against Hands On. But the shop fought back, and beginning in 2015 the court rulings started going in their direction. Precedents (all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court) have made it clear that under the First Amendment, businesses cannot be compelled to print messages they find objectionable. This is not the same as discriminating against a costumer who falls under a protected class: Hands On would have turned away heterosexual customers who wanted them to print gay pride shirts too. It wasn't the customer's identity that mattered—it was the message.

The case made its way to the Kentucky Supreme Court. Yesterday the court ruled in Hands On Originals' favor, but—awkwardly—not for First Amendment reasons. The local ordinance that GLSO turned to here requires that individuals, not organizations, make claims of discrimination. GLSO thus did not have standing to file the complaint at all, and so the court essentially threw the whole thing out with a unanimous vote in favor of the printer.

While this means that the state Supreme Court did not rule on whether Hands On can be forced to print messages it objects to, Justice David C. Buckingham also wrote separately that he believes that the local Human Rights Commission went "went beyond its charge of preventing discrimination in public accommodation and instead attempted to compel Hands On to engage in expression with which it disagreed." His lengthy concurrence documents the many U.S. Supreme Court precedents that make it clear that with few exceptions, printers such as Hands On cannot be forced to print messages they object to.

Buckingham's concurrence doesn't preclude the possibility of future challenges against printers (or bakers, or any other goods or service provider) for declining to print pro-gay messages, but his writings should be a big warning sign to anybody in Kentucky not to confuse a refusal to print a particular message with discrimination against people.

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  1. “The group got its t-shirts elsewhere

    They were traumatized by the experience, though, so they had to sue?

    Oh, the humanity!

    1. Yeah, never understood how not being able to force someone to make you something is an injury that requires a jury trial.

      1. Where are the damages?

        Our libel laws evolved to conform to the First Amendment. Winning a libel suit is practically like proving a criminal charge because of that, with malice standing in for mens rea and needing to prove damages in order to show that there was a “crime”.

        Why shouldn’t suing people because of their religious beliefs meet similar standards to suing people because of their speech? They’re both protected by the same Amendment! Why do you have to prove damages in the case of one but not the other?

        1. +10

    2. Here I think it’s Hands On who filed against the local Human Rights Commission for their ruling in favor of the would-be customers.

      1. But, yes, the group was so put out by having to buy t-shirts elsewhere that they filed a complaint with the HRC.

    3. The Denver cake-wanters were ok going to Massachusets (cant be fucked getting the spelling right) to get married but going to the next baker down the street to get a cake? That’s a sue-ing offence

    4. no, they shopped for a printer openly mentioning the fact they are christians and uphold the values consistent with that. THEN they went in and baited them, specifically to GET declined. Since the were master baiters, they succeeded.

      They probably already had their real printer picked out.

      Most of these cases are allong these lines… the issue is not that an individual was slighted….. it was that they sought out the right KIND of individual expecting to get their desired rejection, and then take legalaction to prove their alledged superiority. They proved it alright. Now, will the Kentucky Supreme Court award damages for their frivlous lawsuit, or will the folks at Hands On have to endure their no small financial loss in defending their God given right to NOT promote what that same God abhors? Perticularly as we now learn they never had standing in the first place to even bring a complaint.

  2. Procedures were followed, nothing to see here.

  3. I see you are using =href”“>Dilberts Tubular Luggage invention. Hopefully you have no wrinkles.

  4. I think the general consensus on this stuff boils down to the belief that because religious convictions are basically irrational, the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection trumps the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of religion. And that’s because, unlike religious convictions, where you like to stick your willy and what you like to put in your mouth is perfectly rational?!

    I don’t know. It’s not like the social justice warriors give a shit about how they rationalize what they want–they just want it, and if you don’t, then you’re awful–so fuck you. Incidentally, they don’t believe stupid speech is protected by the First Amendment either if it hurts someone’s feelings. Once they get so far away from caring whether they make sense, why bother with the rationalizations?

    I guess you gotta write about something.

    1. The ends justify the MEAN.

    2. Everyone who wants to repeal the First Amendment if it protects the right of religious people to discriminate against LGBTQI+ should just come out of the closet already.

      1. I can tell you right now, these LGBTQI++ folks will not be in favor of marrying the 1st and 2nd amendments to get this Civil Rights thing straightened out.

        Its an abomination!

      2. They have made homosexuality a sacred cow and wish to make any public negative moral judgement of homosexual acts forbidden. Their position seems to be that a gay person is entirely defined as a person by what they orgasm to. Moral rejection of what they orgasm to is rejection of the entire person. It is a very cramped view of personhood.

        1. And at this point, what they are doing is probably counterproductive to their stated goal.

        2. I never understood how enjoying a hard buggering is the equivalent of being black or female.
          Why is sexuality purportedly set in stone, but gender is a choice?

    3. I know you’re not making this argument, just describing what others believe, but the idea that religion is inherently irrational needs to go.

      1. I’d go with that, but I’d also argue that the idea that people’s rights should only be respected if what they’re doing is smart probably needs to go first. Again, what if the First Amendment only protected smart speech? That’s the freedom of the government to decide what is and isn’t smart–not freedom of speech.

        1. Oh, totally agree. On the political front, the most important thing is that you can say what you want regardless of whether others consider it incorrect, irrational, or mean. I suppose I was speaking about the cultural notions of religion.

      2. Nothing irrational about Johan living in a whale, Jesus walking on water, and Mohammad going to Allah’s moon base on a wind horse.

        1. Jonah*

        2. What’s irrational about, e.g., Jesus walking on water? Simply that it violates known laws of the universe?

          1. Technically it’s possible, if the water was super-duper salty and Jesus had that “on the Cross look” weight of Mini-Me.

            1. Or if it was frozen.

              1. Let. It. Go.

          2. I saw Ric Okasec do it once. Of course he also got Paulina Porizkova, so universal laws may not have applied to him.

          3. Or, maybe, that Jesus was the immediate descendent of the Creator of everything, and thus could command anything to do what He wanted it to do, and it would obey…

            1. I have all respect for the Christian religion funny story.

              We were in Israel and stayed at a kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee. We get up in the morning and are standing by the shore. My son, a teenager, says “wait, isn’t this where Jesus walked on water” I told him yes, somewhere around here. So he takes off his shoes and marches about 4 feet in. Turns and says “Well that didn’t work”.

              “No you’r doing it wrong” I said “what is your Hebrew name?”

              “Moshe” I could see it dawning on him. “Now get back in there and part this lake. I want to go in for breakfast”

        3. The point is that the rationality of people’s beliefs or desires is not a legitimate subject of debate when we’re talking about protecting their rights.

          People shouldn’t be required to prove their religious beliefs are rational in order to merit protection by the First Amendment any more than they should be required to prove their sexual desires are rational–even IF IF IF those desires are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. And yet plenty of people seem to assume that religious beliefs shouldn’t be protected because they’re irrational.

          Did that point completely said over your head?

          Where does this standard of rationality appear in the Constitution? Do you imagine that the Fifth Amendment only protects us when we commit rational crimes?

          1. Did that point completely said over your head?</blockquote?

            No, when did I say anything otherwise? You are reading things into what I wrote. Even in the original I suggested nothing like "only rational points should be protected." I clearly answered your other post, agreeing that when it comes to rights, "rationality," however it's defined, doesn't matter.

            I raised a second point (is that allowed here?) suggesting that religion is not irrational.

            1. ah, fucking blockquote. what does Reason think about markdown?

            2. Nope. Not allowed.

          2. Where does this standard of rationality appear in the Constitution? Do you imagine that the Fifth Amendment only protects us when we commit rational crimes?

            (hopefully with working quote this time)

            I really would like to see you point out where I said anything like this.

          3. The point is that the rationality of people’s beliefs or desires is not a legitimate subject of debate when we’re talking about protecting their rights.

            As a general rule of thumb, the harm principle comes into play.

            So long as your beliefs aren’t harming anyone, then however irrational they are, they can be tolerated.

            Once they start harming folks, then merely claiming “but that’s my belief” is not enough.

            We see this all the time. Blood transfusions and medical care for the children of 7th Day Adventists. Safety signage and markings on Amish buggies. Teaching scientific theories in general science classes in Alabama K-12 schools. And yes, non-discrimination laws in public goods and services.

            The sticking point is which “harms” are severe enough to make “I believe” an insufficient justification. Even many folks that are broadly against non-discrimination laws agree that they should probably exist for “essential services”†.
            †That this is never defined is an overlooked detail.

        4. I walked on water yesterday, we had snow here.

      3. While certain beliefs may be irrational (or at least contradict well established scientific theories), I wouldn’t say it’s inherently irrational to be religious. You have to know what people get or want from religion to decide if being religious is irrational.
        But Ken’s main point is the important one, I think. The law must not care whether speech or religion is stupid or wrong or irrational, or the protections are worthless.

        1. Depends on the definition of rational?

          Religious belief had been the norm for 10000 years. It’s not a difficult argument to say atheists are the irrational ones. A doctor friend says when you study the intricacy of the human body, it’s hard not to believe in a higher power, even millions of iterations of millions of years are hard pressed to explain the nuances of the circulatory system.

          1. They would be worshiping an asteroid if they had any shame.

  5. Hands On responded that it wasn’t discriminating against gay customers but was simply refusing to print messages it found objectionable.

    “The Good Ol’ Boys Bar responded that it wasn’t discriminating against Black customers but was simply refusing to allow through the door clothing it found objectionable.”

    1. Actually, from what I can tell, if the LGBT customers had wanted them to print something that said, “Have a Nice Day”, they would have printed it without complaint.

      It really was the content of the messages they objected to–and not the people they were doing it for–and if you don’t see that, it’s probably because you don’t want to.

      1. Yeah – having “GLSO” on the front of the T-shirt was okay, but when they wanted “That boy sure does have a pretty mouth” on the back, they refused the job.

  6. How perverted is the term “human rights” if it now refers to being able to coerce speech?

    1. Speech :: violence

    2. “Now”?

      You actually face a lot less coerced speech then you would have 200 years ago, before the First Amendment was held to apply to states.

  7. GLSO thus did not have standing to file the complaint at all, and so the court essentially threw the whole thing out with a unanimous vote in favor of the printer.

    Translation – they know the printer is in the right, but they don’t want the political backlash that comes with the correct ruling. Now they can repeat the whole thing when an individual files against them.

    1. Isn’t that what courts are supposed to do? Rule as narrowly as possible? Sometimes it’s frustrating, but the alternative encouraged judicial activism.

    2. A plaintiff´s standing is a threshold question that must be considered at the outset, even if objection is not raised by any party.

    3. Political backlash? In Kentucky?

  8. Instead of filing a complaint just open your own print shop called Gay Shirts and print the gayest shirts possible.
    “No one prints gayer shirts than us. Our staff will bend over to make sure your gay shirt needs are met.”

    1. +1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

    2. “Orders taken in the rear”

    3. That is what I said about the wedding cakes. If it were me and I had the other bakery in town I would just advertise “ best gayest wedding cakes in town” Do you know what they charge for those fancy ones? I mean it’s cake for crying out loud and not like I could say anything to the United female front when I paid for a wedding.

  9. Hands On responded that it wasn’t discriminating against gay customers but was simply refusing to print messages it found objectionable.

    Here’s the thing. If I owned a t-shirt shop and someone wanted me to make a nazi-themed shirt, I would escort that person out the front wall of my shop.

    The GBLT organization being discussed here would look upon that favorably, while failing to see how the same thing applies to them.

    1. Exactly. Nobody ever think they are the bad guy.

    2. The GBLT organization being discussed here would look upon that favorably, while failing to see how the same thing applies to them.

      It doesn’t apply to them because only wrong-thinkers have any issues with the alphabet people.

      1. And yet I’ve met plenty of alphabet people who have a problem with the letter T.

        1. Yeah — the wrong kind of alphabet people.

        2. Tweens?

    3. Ernst Röhm wouldn’t complain as long as the shirts were brown.

    4. They are the same in civil rights. They are not moral equivalents.

      That is where applause and legal rights are different.

      So you know the difference, nazis whatever religion or none are a universal evil. Gays, well not so much.

      They may be sinners but there are many sins. 613 in my religion I violated many of those today. I ate non kosher that is between myself and G-d. The ones I need to worry about are where I harmed or caused hurt to another human being. That is between us. G-d cannot forgive me for those.

      I am talking religion not law. Atheists, there are refreshments and wine in the hall. You can come too.

      My dumb sermon for the day.

  10. Bear in mind, this is a Kentucky court we’re talking about. It’s not exactly gay central.

    1. Yep – the gay hillbillies are mostly in Georgia and North Carolina – where they filmed Deliverance.

      1. They weren’t gay. They were interspeciesists who were fantasizing like hell.

    2. Kentucky.

      Coasties learned everything they need to know from Beverly Hillbillies and the Dukes of Hazzard.

  11. If the Alphabet People are looking to get people on their side, I’m thinking they’re going about it the wrong way.

    1. There are no sides. We are all the same animal.

      1. “The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” (Robert Heinlein)
        You can tell which side are the control-freaks here, can’t you?

  12. The bottom line is these folks at the print shop were NOT discriminating against the putative customer at all. Had they been in there to get tee shirts celebrating a housewarming, or a graduation of one of their people, they’d have had their shirts just the way they wanted them.
    I”ll bet the farm if a married couple had come in with a photograph of themselves in sexual union, fully exposed, and wanted THAT printed on a tee shirt to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, , they’d have been politeluy declined as well.

    It never is the perceived proclivities of the putative customer, it is always the specific message desired. I’l bet these folks would also decline to print tee shirts to celebrate the genital mutilation of one of their daughters. But a Mexican family wanting tee shirts for their Daughter’s Quinceaños would be ready tommow. Or a Caotlic family wanting a shirt to mark the confirmation of their daughter. Or maybe yet another family wanting a tee shirt for a party honouring THEIR 17 year old for taking the state championship in long range pistol competition. Or like read about earlier this week, the 12 year old little girl went out hunting with her Dad for the first time and bagged a HUGE six point buck.
    And I’ll bet the Alphabet Soup printship across town who did the shirts for the complainants in this case WOULD likely refuse to do the shirts for the last four imaginary customers.

  13. The Civil Rights Act violates the NAP and is therefore immoral.

  14. I don’t understand how it’s ok and even encouraged for online social media to make judgements about my advertising and refuse to run it when they disagree with it, but the shirt company has to print anything no matter what. I so confuse.

    1. I so confuse.


      The printers lost the first case. They’ve been winning since 2015. Which is to say, no, the shirt company does not have to print anything no matter what.

      So yes, you are obviously confused about the outcome of the case.

  15. “Human Rights Commission” is a term Orwell would have understood. In every case I can think of, “human rights commissions” have worked to deny people the right to make free choices.

  16. Anymore this seems to have more to do with bashing Christians than gay rights. The United States has a large Muslim immigrant population and many of those people own businesses. Yet you never hear of the gay mafia suing a devout Muslim business owner for refusing to make a wedding cake or print a T-shirt.

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