Hands On Originals, Inc., does not have a free-speech or free-exercise right to violate Lexington-Fayette Urban County, Ky., anti-discrimination laws, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed yesterday with the Commonwealth of Kentucky Court of Appeals, Americans United said Hands On Originals cannot use the religious beliefs of its owner as legal cover for refusing to make T-shirts for a gay-pride event.
“Lexington-Fayette Urban County’s anti-discrimination law means no one has the right to treat LGBT people as second-class citizens,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Hands On Originals does not get a special exemption from this regulation simply because of its owner’s religious convictions.”
The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) had asked Hands on Originals to make shirts commemorating the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival, but the company’s owner, Blaine Adamson, refused – citing his religious beliefs. Since Lexington-Fayette Urban County prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, GLSO made a successful complaint against the company with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Human Rights Commission. But the Fayette County Circuit Court overturned that ruling earlier this year.
Hands On Originals has claimed that its products are “artistic” in nature and therefore the company should not be forced to print shirts containing customers’ messages with which it does not agree. In its brief, Americans United explains that if that argument succeeds, it could be used to justify virtually any refusal of service.
“Accepting the arguments made by Hands On Originals in this case would not only put Kentucky courts in conflict with First Amendment decisions from across the country, but also would allow nearly any business alleging that its provision of goods or services is expressive to discriminate as it pleased,” the brief asserts. “Gay men, lesbians, and members of other protected classes (and their children) would not know which businesses they could patronize and could not expect the law to protect their rights of access to public accommodations.”
This brief was filed in conjunction with Americans United’s Protect Thy Neighbor project, an initiative launched this year that seeks to ensure no one uses religion as an excuse to discriminate against others.
“We’ve been down this road before,” said AU Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper. “In the 1960s, courts ruled against business owners who tried to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate on the basis of race. The outcome should be no different when it comes to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation: The religious beliefs of business owners don’t give them a right to treat LGBT people as second-class citizens.”
The brief for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals, Inc. was prepared by Lipper, AU Legal Director Richard B. Katskee, and AU Madison Fellow Carmen Green. (Green is admitted in Virginia only, and is supervised by Katskee, a member of the D.C. Bar.) David Tachau and Katherine E. McKune from the Kentucky law firm of Tachau Meek PLC served as co-counsel.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.