Imagine a T-shirt print shop run by owners who openly practice homosexual behavior. Let’s call it “Tolerance 101.” They make T-shirts for community events, annual “gay pride” rallies, and sports teams around their city. Now, imagine that a major Christian ministry contacts the company to have them make T-shirts that will be worn at an event supporting marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Tolerance 101 declines to the make the shirts. In short, the managing owner exercises his prerogative as a business owner to refuse to communicate a message in genuine conflict with his beliefs. Tolerance 101 does business all the time with heterosexuals and even has heterosexual employees, so it’s not about discrimination against any person. It’s simply about not wanting to further a message the owners so deeply oppose. Tolerance 101 even goes the extra mile and finds another T-shirt shop willing to do the job at the same price.
This scenario never happened, but if it did, it’s almost certain that the Christian ministry would not be traipsing off to the local human rights commission to file a discrimination complaint. But turn the tables and see what happens.
A company called Hands On Originals decided to not make T-shirts for an upcoming “gay pride” event in Lexington, Kentucky. As a result of Hands On Originals’ decision, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington has filed a complaint with Lexington’s Human Rights Commission and is pushing what many would consider an all-out smear campaign against the T-shirt company for exercising a prerogative it would almost certainly want to reserve for itself.
This has caused the dominoes to start tipping one against the next, and an investigation has been launched into Hands On Originals because of its decision. And this investigation will certainly require the involvement of managing owner Blaine Adamson and others.
For example, 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.” Added Sexton: “We have subpoena power and have the backing of the law,” he said. “We are a law enforcement agency and people have to comply.”
Adamson, for his part, has respectfully responded that his company “employs and conducts business with people of all genders, races, religions, sexual preferences and national origins. However, due to the promotional nature of our products, it is the prerogative of the company to refuse any order that would endorse positions that conflict with the convictions of the ownership.”
But the bottom line in this juxtaposition of Tolerance 101 and Hands On Originals is that the former would certainly be extended a broader degree of freedom and professional discretion than the latter. Tolerance 101 might even get kudos for its “courageous” stand against “bigotry” and its supporters would be quick to proclaim that the First Amendment protects Tolerance 101 from being punished for refusing to promote a viewpoint with which it disagrees. This duplicity is widely known but rarely addressed. And it allows homosexual activists to have their cake and eat it too, while condemning those who refuse to go along with the agenda.
It is the prerogative of a business owner to decline to aid in promoting a message that he cannot in good conscience promote. And this prerogative belongs to all business owners, whether they agree with the demands of those pushing a particular social agenda or not.
Byron Babione is senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (www.telladf.org), a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.