Richard Nelson: Lexington ruling denies right of religious liberty

Richard Nelson of Cadiz is executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center.
Richard Nelson of Cadiz is executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center.

By Richard Nelson

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness . . ."

So begins Charles Dickens' classic. Another version of A Tale of Two Cities unfolded in two Kentucky communities this month when Berea voted down a fairness ordinance which would have elevated sexual orientation and gender identity to civil rights protection on par with race and ethnicity.

Lexington's Human Rights Commission, on the other hand, invoked that city's fairness ordinance to pronounce guilt on a Christian-owned business that declined to print T-shirts for a gay-pride event.

Such incidents, no longer isolated, signify that we've entered a season of darkness and winter of despair for religious freedom and rights of conscience.

Consider the facts. In 2012, Hands On Originals co-owner Blaine Adamson refused to fill a T-shirt order for Lexington's Gay and Lesbian Services Organization's Pride event. Adamson objected out of religious conviction, not animus or hatred toward homosexuals. He believed the message he was asked to print would violate who he was and what he believed.

Adamson even went out of his way to help find another company to help fill the order. Nonetheless, the commission found Adamson and his crew guilty of violating the rights of GLSO organizers and sentenced them to mandatory diversity training.

Isn't diversity what Adamson was practicing until the uniformity police stepped in and ordered him to shelve his religious beliefs? The object of such training is to get Adamson and company to repent of unfashionable ways, step into the brave new world of blurred moral boundaries and embrace the state-approved view of sexual ethics.

While this isn't the French Revolution that served as the backdrop of Dickens' tale, it's certainly a moral revolution where the newfound right of sexual expression has superseded the right of religious conviction.

The basis for Lexington's ordinance is the assumption that disapproval of homosexuality is tantamount to bigotry. The ugliness of hate toward another simply because of their skin color or ethnicity is indefensible. But equating skin color to sexual behavior is an unfair comparison. Homosexuals never were legally forced to drink from separate fountains. Nor were they denied the right to vote. No religion teaches that skin color is a sin.

What about protecting Adamson's inherent human right of religious freedom? Is there no longer any room in the public square for religiously informed beliefs? And does refusal to convey an objectionable message really violate another's human right?

The ruling sends a chilling message to Lexington's practicing Christian, Jewish or Muslim business owners who will be forced to lend time, talent and energy to promote messages and ideas which violate their deepest held religious beliefs. No person should be forced to violate their conscience.

The city of Berea refused to join the cultural revolution that has elevated sexual expression to status of the sacred.

Lexington chose instead to criminalize an individual's religiously informed beliefs about human conduct. It's the 21st century's version of A Tale of Two Cities. The next chapter could be coming to a town near you.