Kentucky court says free speech, not faith, at issue in pride fest T-shirt case. Press says: Huh?

There can be little doubt that Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals, whose subtitle is "Christian Outfitters," is sincere in his commitment to his faith and beliefs. Just watch the video above.

Whether or not that's enough to allow him and the firm, known as HOO, to reject a print order for T-shirts promoting a gay pride festival is the hot topic in and around Lexington, Kentucky, these days.

Last week, a 2-1 vote of the Kentucky Court of Appeals came out in favor of lower court rulings backing Adamson. So-called "viewpoint discrimination" is allowed, with the decision stating, "Nothing in the fairness ordinance prohibits HOO, a private business, from engaging in viewpoint or message censorship."

This is a ruling that doesn't involve, or even discuss, Adamson's free exercise of religion rights, but rather his right to accept or refuse printing orders based on his principles. That's a key difference from other cases across the country, but the local paper -- which presumably has been close to the case -- skipped over it.

Let's see what the Lexington Herald-Leader said in reporting the ruling:

“Because of my Christian beliefs, I can’t promote that,” Adamson told a Human Rights Commission hearing officer. “Specifically, it’s the Lexington Pride Festival, the name and that it’s advocating pride in being gay and being homosexual, and I can’t promote that message. It’s something that goes against my belief system.”
In 2012, the Human Rights Commission said that service refusal violated the city’s fairness ordinance, part of which prohibits businesses which are open to the public from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.
However, the Court of Appeals disagreed on Friday, ruling that speech is not necessarily protected under the fairness ordinance.
While the ordinance does protect gays and lesbians from discrimination because of their sexual orientation, 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. A Christian who owns a printing company should not be compelled to spread a group’s message if he disagrees with it, Kramer wrote.

Note this carefully: the majority found that it was speech that was at issue here. While there's mention of Adamson's Christian faith, neither the news report nor the ruling mention the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been cited in other cases of conscientious objection to this or that governmental mandate.

I don't know if this is an absolute first in the arena of vendor-conscience-versus-customer-rights lawsuits, but it sounds like one to me. It certainly is a departure in the way such cases are generally argued and often lost. This should have been reported, I believe.

Yet the newspaper makes no mention of this, which is journalism issue No. 1. I can't imagine the reporter or their editors are unaware of the other cases in Washington state, New Mexico and Colorado that bump up against the Lexington matter. These are national cases, some of which may yet land at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet there's not a single word -- not one -- in reference to these comparisons. Perhaps the paper has covered those before, but in a wrap-up story such as this, at least a passing mention should be made.

At the same time, the Herald-Leader, in yet another apparent example of Kellerism, keeps the pro-Adamson voices to a minimum. HOO owner Adamson is represented by a quote from the opinion of his words to a Lexington Human Rights Commission investigator and by a 22-word direct quote following the ruling.

The dissenting viewpoint of Judge Jeff S. Taylor is represented by 122 words quoted from his opinion, buttressed by 37 quoted words from the rights commission's director and a 67-word quote from the group that organized the pride festival.

Search the Herald-Leader report and you'll find nothing from any seminary professor, despite the presence of the Lexington Theological Seminary in town. No preachers are quoted, no people of faith on any side of the issue other than Adamson.

Balance and perspective appear to be missing from this report. We are served up the views of the losing side, but precious little from those who might cheer the ruling. Nor do we find anyone who can frame this in terms of the larger issues out there.

In this case, the losers are also the readers of the local newspaper, who deserve better coverage.

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