Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael issued a ruling Monday reversing the Lexington Human Rights Commission's 2014 decision that Hands On Originals violated Lexington's fairness ordinance.
The ordinance, among other things, prohibits businesses from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.
The case between Lexington's Gay and Lesbian Services Organization and Hands On Originals over the company's refusal to print the organization's T-shirts apparently will go another round in court.
Ray Sexton, executive director of the Lexington Human Rights Commission, said an appeal was likely. He said the commission's board would consider its next step at a meeting Monday evening.
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Hands On Originals and its owner, Blaine Adamson, said it declined the 2012 T-shirt order because of religious beliefs and disagreed with the shirt's message, which included the words "Lexington Pride Festival" with a list of sponsors of the gay-pride event on the back.
Attorneys for the Scottsdale, Ariz., nonprofit group Alliance Defending Freedom appealed the Human Rights Commission decision against Hands On Originals in Fayette Circuit Court.
Jim Campbell, senior legal counsel for the alliance, said in a news release Monday that government "can't force citizens to surrender free-speech rights or religious freedom in order to run a small business, and this decision affirms that. ... The court rightly recognized that the law protects Blaine's decision not to print shirts with messages that conflict with his beliefs, and that no sufficient reason exists for the government to coerce Blaine to act against his conscience in this way."
Sexton said Ishmael's ruling was part of a continuing process. "We don't look at this as a loss," he said Monday. "We look at it as a 1-1 tie right now."
The ruling "is nothing we weren't prepared for at the very beginning," Sexton said.
In his decision, Ishmael said that there was no evidence that Hands On Originals or its owners "refused to print the T-shirts in question based upon the sexual orientation of GLSA or its members or representatives. ... Rather, it is clear beyond dispute that (Hands On Originals) and its owners declined to print the T-shirts in question because of the message advocating sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman."
The question of whether businesses may cite their faith in rejecting jobs serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers has been discussed nationwide in recent months after Indiana enacted its "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," which gives businesses that right.
Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation of Kentucky, hailed the ruling Monday in a statement: "We are pleased to see some courts are still acknowledging the First Amendment's right to religious freedom. And that the 'PC police' are not quite powerful enough to convince courts that it doesn't exist."