Lexington T-Shirt Maker's Case Goes To Supreme Court

Aug 23, 2019

The Kentucky Supreme Court heard oral arguments Friday in the case of a Lexington t-shirt maker accused of violating the city’s fairness ordinance by refusing to print shirts for a gay pride event. 

The t-shirt design requested by the Lexington Gay and Lesbian Services Organization for the 2012 Lexington Pride Fest.
Credit Lexington Pride Fest

It’s been called the t-shirt design that launched a thousand legal briefs – the 2012 gay pride festival shirt has been at the center of a years-long dispute between printer Hands-On Originals and the city’s Human Rights Commission. Attorneys for both appeared in court Friday.

Hands On representative Jim Campbell said the First Amendment protects both the owner of the print shop, Blaine Adamson, from having to promote a message he disagrees with on religious grounds – and a hypothetical business owner in in the opposite situation.

"So while in this case, it would protect Mr. Adamson and ensure that he is not forced to print messages that violate his religious beliefs, it would also ensure that a lesbian print shop owner isn't forced to create a poster opposing same-sex marriage for a religious organization," Campbell told the justices. 

But Human Rights Commission attorney Edward Dove argued Hands-On did run afoul of the ordinance, which bars discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation.

Asked if Adamson qualifies as a publisher of content in the case, Dove responded, " I would say he's not. I say he's a technician. he is performing a service to the community by printing t-shirts. I think it would have been different if the organization had gone in and said, 'Make me up a t-shirt.'"

At a gathering in the Capitol rotunda after the hearing, Adamson said he doesn’t “walk into my business every day and leave my faith at the door.” Two GOP candidates for office Lieutenant Governor hopeful Sen. Ralph Alvarado and Attorney General nominee Daniel Cameron also made appearances at the event supporting Adamson.

The court will issue a ruling at a later date.