Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has filed a brief supporting a Christian T-shirt company’s right to discriminate against LGBTQ customers.
In 2012, a Lexington, Ky.-based retailer Hands-On Originals refused a request from a local LGBTQ group to print shirts for its yearly Pride celebration. The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization took the matter to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, who ruled the business had violated local laws banning discrimination against queer and transgender people.
The owner of Hands-On Originals, Blaine Adamson, denied the company’s intent was to discriminate against LGBTQ people. He told the Human Rights Commission the problem was that the design promoted an event contrary to the brand’s religious beliefs.
“Specifically, it’s the Lexington Pride Festival, the name and that it’s advocating pride in being gay and being homosexual, and I can’t promote that message,” Adamson claimed.
Two local courtsincluding the Kentucky Court of Appealsagreed with the owner’s assessment, overturning the original ruling by the Human Rights Commission. “The right of free speech does not guarantee to any person the right to use someone else’s property,” wrote Judge Joy Kramer in May 2017 following a 2-1 vote.
The matter is now before the Kentucky Supreme Court to debate.
Bevin signed onto a “friend of the court” brief in support of the Christian outlet this week, in which third-party entities with a compelling interest in a case offer their legal opinion on its merits. The Republican governor argued government agencies cannot force businesses into “promoting homosexuality.”
“The court should hold that, under the Kentucky Constitution, laws that override religious beliefs or freedom of conscience are unconstitutional unless they can overcome the most exacting scrutiny,” Bevin says in the brief.
He further opposed the Lexington Fairness Ordinance, saying it “cannot stand.”
“For over two centuries, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has protected its citizens’ right to act according to their conscience,” Steve Pitt, Bevin’s general counsel, added in a statement.
“This important case, which has attracted national attention, tests whether Kentucky’s history of safeguarding freedom of conscience will continue or be curtailed,” Pitt continued. “Requiring Hands-On’s owners to engage in speech with which they disagree is a violation of their freedom of conscience, and we are hopeful that the Kentucky Supreme Court will reaffirm this bedrock of Kentucky’s constitutional charter.”
In addition to the Kentucky governor, a number of other conservative entities filed briefs supporting Hands-On Originals in the pivotal case. These parties include the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, CatholicVote.org, the Cato Institute, Jews for Religious Liberty, and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
But this isn’t the first time Bevin backed the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Last March, the conservative signed a bill allowing student groups at publicly funded universities to prevent queer and trans classmates from joining. State Bill 17 also hinders schools from taking action if an organization were to block LGBTQ people from leadership and protects students who espouse homophobic “religious or political viewpoints.”
Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow called the legislation “shameful.”
“No student should fear being excluded from a school club or participating in a school activity because they are LGBTQ,” she said in a statement at the time. “While, of course, private groups should have the freedom to express religious viewpoints, they should not be able to unfairly discriminate with taxpayer funds.”
The Supreme Court is set to rule on a similar case in June. The nation’s highest bench will determine where a Colorado cakeshop owner had the right to refuse a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.
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