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How To Ruin a Christian Business

Remember Dreher’s Two Laws of the Culture War?:

The First Law of the Culture War: Conservatives are always and everywhere the aggressors. 

The Second Law of the Culture War: The existence of conservative values, traditions, and institutions constitute acts of aggression. 

Well. A Lexington, Ky., t-shirt company is under investigation by the city’s human rights commission.  Why? It refused to print Gay Pride t-shirts for a local gay rights organization. More:

The owner of “Hands On Originals,” a well-known t-shirt company in the region, declined to print the shirts for the city’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO) because it would conflict with their Christian convictions.

The privately owned company is now accused of violating Lexington’s Fairness Act – which protects people and organizations from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.


“No business owner should be forced to violate his conscience simply because someone demands it,” he said. “The Constitution absolutely supports the rights of business owners to decline a request to support a message that conflicts with their deeply held convictions.”

Raymond Sexton, the executive director of the Human Rights Commission told Fox News that “Hands On Originals” will be “required by law to participate in the investigation.”

“We have subpoena power and have the backing of the law,” he said. “We are a law enforcement agency and people have to comply.”

The county school system has frozen its business with the company pending outcome of the investigation. Should the company be found guilty of discriminating against the homosexuals Sexton said they could be subjected to fines. Note well that Hands On Originals offered to find another company to print the t-shirts that would honor its price, but the gay group wanted to use the power of the state to make an example of the Christian business.

“Our feeling on that is, separate but equal wasn’t okay during the civil rights movement and it’s not okay now,” Aaron Baker told the television station. Baker is board president of GLSO.

Blaine Adamson is the managing owner of “Hands on Originals.” He defended his company in an op-ed that appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader and unequivocally denied that he is guilty of discrimination.

“I decided to pass on the opportunity because, as a Christian owner, I cannot in good conscience endorse groups or events that run counter to my convictions,” Adamson wrote in the op-ed.

Of course he’s guilty of discrimination, in the same way that a gay-owned t-shirt company would be guilty of discrimination if it declined to print t-shirts for, I dunno, Christians Defend The Family Against Sodomites Day. So what? In the wake of the controversy, the GLSO has had lots of offers to print their t-shirts. This is not about them being denied access to t-shirts, or having to pay more for them because they’re gay. Remember, Hands On Originals offered to find another t-shirt printer to do the job at the same price. This is all about using the power of the state to stick it to a Christian business.

The owner of the t-shirt business says:

“Over the past 20 years, we have declined to produce several other products with different messages than the one at issue here because we disapproved of whatever message it was, and it never had anything to do with discrimination. “People reading this may disagree with my view on the current issue, but I hope they will join us in supporting our right to decline an order that promotes a view so contrary to our personal beliefs.”

Again, I think he’s technically wrong to say this has nothing to do with “discrimination.” He apparently means “discrimination” in the sense of malicious or legally actionable discrimination. Still, his point is sound: he’s not singling out gays for special treatment here. He has a record of declining business for causes that violate his principles. Again I say: so what? I don’t blame the GLSO for being offended, but the illiberal action of bring the state down on the heads of these people, who tried to work out a compromise, is troubling. If a gay-owned t-shirt company declined my business because they didn’t agree with the message I was asking them to put on a t-shirt, but was polite about it and offered to help me find a competitor who could fulfill my order, I might be offended by their refusal of my business, and I might tell all my friends not to do business with them. But to try to bring the power of the state down on their heads? No.

You say, “Would you make this argument about a company that was discriminating against blacks?” No, I wouldn’t — but that’s because I don’t believe that homosexuality is analogous to race. Besides, aside from some fringe folk, there are virtually no people in this country whose religion morally stigmatizes race. Christianity, Islam, and Orthodox Judaism do stigmatize homosexuality.

You may think this is wrong — liberal Christians certainly do — but you have to live in a country in which many millions of people believe these teachings are morally true, and important. Morals are changing, and fast evolving in a direction that is much more accepting and affirming of homosexuality. That can’t be denied. What is troubling is the unwillingness of so many homosexuals to recognize and respect pluralism, and its requirement that we tolerate a lot of things we don’t like, for the sake of communal peace. Anyway, I feel so strongly about religious liberty that I would not be the least offended if a Muslim t-shirt maker declined to make a t-shirt advertising a Christian festival, on religious grounds — as long as he was respectful about it, and especially if he offered to find a t-shirt maker who would. It is more important to me to uphold the principle of freedom of religion than that the state compel the Muslim t-shirt maker to violate his conscience to serve my desires.

If gays in Lexington could not get their t-shirts printed by anybody else in the area because no t-shirt maker would take gay business, I would be more sympathetic to their cause. If there were laws in place forbidding the accommodation of a gay clientele, a la Southern segregation laws, I would definitely be on the side of gay customers. Neither is remotely the case here. The real offense by Hands On Originals is thoughtcrime.

Hands On Originals is apparently known for being a Christian company (see its website; they have an explicitly Christian division that prints things for churches, church camps, etc.) . It seems that the GLSO picked them out to make an example of them, to test them. Who, then, is the aggressor in this skirmish of the culture war? When people claim that it’s right-wing propaganda that gay rights are a threat to religious liberty, think of this case. Hands On Originals was willing to meet the GLSO halfway to accommodate the organization’s needs without violating its own corporate conscience. It wasn’t enough for the GLSO to be tolerant; it is determined to force this Christian business to submit. I find that the plea for “tolerance” from liberals is often a mere tactic to be used against conservatives; as soon as liberals are in a position to enforce their own orthodoxy, they are ruthless in so doing. This clash was unnecessary, inasmuch as it was possible to work out a mutually acceptable compromise for both sides. The Christians were willing. But these gay-rights supporters are not willing to be tolerant of a merchant who doesn’t share their beliefs about homosexuality. They would rather fight the culture war.  Some humans have more human rights than others.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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