Feb 24, 2016

In March 2012, the Gay & Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington, Kentucky sought to purchase t-shirts from Hands on Originals, a local, for-profit, screen-printing shop. GLSO wanted to have the words “Lexington Pride Festival” and a multi-colored numeral “5” printed on the shirts (the shirts were for the locality’s fifth annual Pride Festival). HOO’s owner, upon learning what the Pride Festival represented, refused to serve the GLSO. The owner explained that HOO is a Christian company, and that he would not promote any event that encouraged individuals to be proud of behavior that he deemed sinful.

GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, which is charged with enforcing the local human rights ordinance that forbids discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation, among other characteristics. The Commission found that HOO had violated the County’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

HOO then appealed to the Fayette Circuit Court, which ruled in favor of HOO.  In the first decision of its kind, the court determined that, while HOO is a public accommodation, it had a free speech and free exercise right to ignore antidiscrimination statutes.

The Commission appealed this decision to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. In December 2015, we filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Commission. We argued that neither the Free Exercise nor the Free Speech Clause protect discrimination in places of public accommodation. We additionally argued that providing an exception to anti-discrimination laws under the guise of free speech or free exercise rights would necessarily allow places of public accommodation to discriminate against members of all other protected classes as well.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals has not yet ruled in this case.