Fayette County

Did T-shirt company violate city’s fairness ordinance? State’s high court to decide.

This is the T-shirt for the 2012 Pride Festival. It’s the focus of a case that has been appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
This is the T-shirt for the 2012 Pride Festival. It’s the focus of a case that has been appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Kentucky’s highest court will hear a controversial case involving a Lexington company’s refusal to print a T-shirt for the city’s annual gay-pride festival.

The Kentucky Supreme Court issued an order last month saying it would hear the case, which stems from a decision in 2012 by Hands On Originals to refuse to print a T-shirt for the Lexington Gay and Lesbian Services Organization. The company’s owner said he had religious objections to “pride in being gay.”

The case, which began five years ago, has been watched closely across the state and the country.

The Lexington Human Rights Commission ruled that Hands On Originals violated the Lexington’s fairness ordinance, part of which prohibits businesses that are open to the public from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.

So far, courts have sided with Hands on Originals.

In May, a three-judge panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to uphold an earlier decision by Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael, which struck down the human rights commission’s finding.

The appeals court ruled that the fairness ordinance doesn’t trump the company’s right to free speech, the majority wrote.

The ordinance protects gays and lesbians from discrimination because of their sexual orientation, but what Hands On Originals objected to was spreading the gay rights group’s message, Chief Judge Joy A. Kramer wrote in the majority opinion. That is different than refusing to serve the group because of the sexual behavior of its individual members, she wrote.

“In other words, the ‘service’ Hands On Originals offers is the promotion of messages,” she wrote. “The ‘conduct’ Hands On Originals chose not to promote was pure speech. There is no contention that Hands On Originals is a public forum in addition to a public accommodation. Nothing in the fairness ordinance prohibits Hands On Originals, a private business, from engaging in viewpoint or message censorship.”

The Human Rights Commission appealed the appellate court’s decision to the state Supreme Court. A date for when the case will be heard has not been set.

The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization now goes by the name Pride Community Services Organization.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall