Blaine Adamson (second from left) spent time in Pennsylvania this week to share his story.

After a five-year journey through Kentucky Courts, Blaine Adamson won his case last May in the Kentucky Court of Appeals. He highlighted his journey in a trip to Pennsylvania this week in hopes of preventing others from having to endure the same.

Blaine operates “Hands on Originals,” a t-shirt design business in Lexington, Kentucky. To Blaine, his Christian faith is inseparable from his work. He therefore only takes orders which align with his beliefs and turns down orders which do not.

In 2012, Blaine kindly turned down an order from the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, now known as Pride Community Services Organization. The organization had requested t-shirts for the Lexington Pride Festival. Although he serves customers who identify as LGBTQ, the message requested on these shirts was not something Blaine and his company could print. He directed this request to another t-shirt business that would fulfill their order.

Promoting a message

This was not the first order he declined to print. Messages requested from strip clubs, biker groups – even churches – he had declined before. Although Blaine treated the Pride Community Services Organization with the same fairness he had shown other customers, they reported him to the Lexington Human Rights Commission. The Commission found Blaine guilty of violating the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Lexington’s ordinance is similar to SB 613 and HB 1410, which have been introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Equality for all

Even those from the LGBT community support Blaine’s right to freedom of speech and ability to choose the message they print. Kathy Trautvetter owns BMT T-shirts, based in New Jersey, with her partner Kathy. They believe that all businesses, including their own and Blaine’s, have the freedom to act according to conscience. “When I read the story I immediately felt, ‘If I were in his shoes, what would they be forcing me to do?’ I have to say, if that were me I wouldn’t like it either.”

Government becoming my conscience?

Blaine’s case found its way into the courts, where it was decided twice in favor of Blaine after five years of litigation. The Court of Appeals ruled on May 12, 2017, that Blaine’s business promoted speech content, and that he therefore did not discriminate based on sexual orientation. His business has the freedom to accept or reject an order on the basis of the order’s speech content.

Throughout this whole process, Blaine’s business continued to operate and decisions had to be made on what messages to print. For Blaine, it was as if he had to have a red phone to call the government to ask their permission to decline a message.

Pride Community Services Organization is appealing the ruling to the Kentucky State Supreme Court.

Although Blaine acted fairly in treating the organization’s order like any other order, he lost a significant amount of business after a public smear campaign and was faced with a long and arduous court battle to preserve his right to free speech and fair business practices. Blaine’s victory, however, is rare. Courts in other states have heavily penalized and even closed businesses under laws similar to Lexington’s ordinance.

Threat in Pennsylvania

House Bill 1410 and Senate Bill 613 threatens every Pennsylvania’s right to free speech and religious freedom. In PA’s General Assembly, HB1410 & SB613 would add the special status of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into state law, which would result in the same sort of litigation against businesses like Blaine’s throughout the state of Pennsylvania. Blaine did win his case, but it took over five years of uncertainty, significant financial loss and difficulty for Blaine, his business, and his family.

Let’s make sure we don’t see this happen to anyone in Pennsylvania: use our Citizen Action Center today to inform your State Senator and State Representative to oppose HB1410 and SB613.