Before their message hit my inbox on a Saturday morning, I’d never met Diane and Kathy, a same-sex couple who own a New Jersey promotional print shop specializing in LGBT-themed apparel. But their message couldn’t have come at a better time.
Diane and Kathy wanted me to know that I wasn’t alone. No doubt, that was something I needed to hear right then. During the weeks leading up to that day, I’d been sued because I had declined on behalf of my print shop, Hands On Originals, to print shirts with messages that violate my faith.
Along with the lawsuit itself, there was plenty of negative publicity directed my way. Even my city’s mayor had voiced his opposition to me, and my relationship with some of my regular customers was suddenly strained. It was a difficult season. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and Diane and Kathy wanted me to know they wouldn’t either.
But there was another reason Diane and Kathy reached out to me, and why they’ve publicly advocated for me since. They understood that, even though we may not see eye to eye on any number of issues, our freedoms travel together. After all, if I can be forced to violate my conscience at my print shop, who’s to say that they won’t be next?
Like Diane and Kathy’s business, Hands On Originals is a promotional printing company. We’ll work with anyone, regardless of who they are or what belief system they have. But we don’t print all messages.
In fact, from 2010 to 2012, we declined over a dozen orders because of the messages we were asked to print, including a couple from area churches — one of which depicted Jesus sitting in a bucket of chicken. I know it was a lighthearted message, but at the end of the day, I felt that it was disrespectful to my Savior.
In early March 2012 — a few weeks before Diane and Kathy contacted me — I spoke with a customer who wanted shirts promoting a local gay pride festival that summer. As the customer told me the design and wording he had in mind, it became clear to me that we weren’t going to be able to print those shirts. But as I told him at the time, I wanted to make sure he was taken care of, so I offered to send his order to a company I knew would print the shirts for the same price I would have charged.
Hands On Originals is a promotional printing company. We’ll work with anyone, regardless of who they are or what belief system they have. But we don’t print all messages.
Instead of accepting my offer, the group organizing the Pride festival filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission. The complaint from the group — which ended up getting its shirts printed by another print shop free of charge — accused me of refusing to work with LGBT customers.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Again, I work with all people, no matter who they are. I both serve and employ gay people. In fact, we’ve printed materials for a lesbian musician who played at that very same Pride festival.
But none of this has stopped the government from pursuing its case against me. I and my Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have spent the past seven-plus years in and out of court as I defend myself against a government that is bent on forcing me to print messages that violate my faith.
My latest stop was the Kentucky Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in my case on Aug. 23. If the government has its way, I will be required to print messages that violate my faith.
While it’s hard for me to even imagine it, that could force me to have to choose between following my faith and continuing the promotional work that I love — a career that for decades has provided not only for my family but also for the families of the more than 30 people we employ from diverse backgrounds.
People don’t surrender their freedom of speech when they choose to make a living by printing messages. That’s clear to me. It’s clear to Diane and Kathy, who have supported me because they understand that it’s not just my freedom at stake, but theirs too. And it should have been clear to the government as well.
The Kentucky Supreme Court now has the chance to make that clear to everyone. If it does, it can ensure that business owners who serve everyone, like I do, are not forced to print messages that violate their beliefs. That’s a message Diane, Kathy, and I — and countless others who make speech for a living — would sure like to hear.