The Human Rights Commission in Lexington, Kentucky dismissed the argument that a business could refuse to serve gay customers on First Amendment grounds, ending a years-long conservative campaign to disguise anti-gay discrimination as free speech.
In March of 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington (GLSO) filed a complaint against Hands-On Originals, a T-shirt company that refused to print GLSO's shirts for the Lexington Pride Festival celebration. GLSO argued that the company had violated the city's fairness ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Conservative media outlets rallied to the T-shirt company's defense, accusing GLSO of trying to "ruin" a Christian business by forcing Hands-On Originals to promote a message it doesn't agree with. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal group representing Hand-On Originals, similarly framed the dispute as a free speech issue, stating that “the Constitution prohibits the government from forcing business owners to promote messages they disagree with.”
On October 6, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission released its recommended ruling in the dispute, concluding that Hands-On Originals had violated the city's ordinance. The decision roundly dismissed ADF's “free speech” arguments:
The Respondent argues that Mr. Adamson's objection to the printing of the t-shirt was not because of the sexual orientation of the members of the GLSO, but because of the Pride Festival's advocacy of pride in being homosexual. Acceptance of the Respondent's argument would allow a public accommodation to refuse service to an individual or group of individuals who hold and/or express pride in their status. This would have the absurd result of including person with disabilities who openly and proudly display their disabilities in the Special Olympics, persons of race or color, who are not only of differing race and color, but express pride in being so, and persons of differing religious who express pride in their religious beliefs.
The Fairness Ordinance does not require the Respondent to display any message, and does not require the Respondent to print promotional items including t-shirts. The Fairness only mandates that if the Respondent operates a business as a public accommodation, it cannot discriminate against potential customers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. [emphasis added]
The decision has provoked outrage from outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller. Fox News radio reporter Todd Starnes claimed “the Human Rights Commission is telling Christian business owners they have to change their religious beliefs.” ADF warned that the commission's ruling “could result in freedom for no one," comparing the decision to forcing a gay business owner to promote anti-gay messages:
But the Commission's decision makes clear that refusing to print a “gay pride” shirt isn't just expressing disapproval of political message, it's expressing disapproval of an entire class of people -- a class