Sunday, November 8, 2015

T-Shirt Company Refuses to Print Pro-Homesexual Shirts

In this week's conflict, a t-shirt company called Hands On Originals, is refusing to print pro-homosexual t-shirts for a gay pride parade. The t-shirt company is claiming that they aren't refusing to make the t-shirts because the customers themselves are homosexual, but because they don't want to support the cause as a whole. The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in Lexington feels like the company is discriminating against homosexuals and is violating their basic rights by not providing them service; consequently, they filed a complaint.

Two polar sides unearthed from this issue. A state agency asserted that the company must provide service to everyone and that it isn't allowed to refuse service to customers based on their sexual orientation. However, the Fayette Circuit Court stated that the first amendment gives the company the right to speak or not to speak -- which grants them the right to decide what type of messages are printed on their t-shirts. As a result of the complexity and significance of the case, it was sent to the Commonwealth of Kentucky Court of Appeals.

The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization feels like they have a good chance of winning this case in court due to similar incidents that have happened this past year. A few months back, an Oregon bakery refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. After a long process of arguing the various perspectives to such a case, the court ruled that businesses cannot refuse any type of services based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot deny service on the basis of race, sex, disability, age or religion. As a result, the bakery was then fined 135,00 dollars for all the emotional pain that was brought upon the couple. Thus, the organization believes that they can use this previous case as precedent for their case. 

However, others believe, that even with widespread support, it's going to be hard for the Gay and Lesbian Organization to convince the court to force the company to print a specific message they don't believe in. The first amendment is one of the fundamental rights that our nation was founded and built upon, and in cases such as NYT v. Sullivan, we have seen how hard it is to infringe upon a party’s first amendment right. Even constitutional expert, Eugene Volokh, who graduated from UCLA School of Law, stated that, "Printers have a First Amendment right to choose which speech they will help disseminate and which they will not" (Source). 

Due to the many different perspectives in such a case, it is simply tricky in nature. In the past, some cases such as the Oregon bakery case have shown us that corporations can't always maintain their beliefs under the law, but in other cases such as Hobby Lobby, the court ruled that businesses have the right to maintain their opinions and should not be forced to do something that goes against their own beliefs. Due to these facts, there is no real certainty that the case will go one way or the other.  Ultimately, it's going to be hard to say with a hundred percent confidence who is going to win the case. In your opinion, who do you think has a better chance of winning the case and why? Also, do you think that the company should be forced to print the pro-homosexuality shirts for the customers, or do you think that they should be entitled to deny them sales under the first amendment?



Rachael Howard said...

I think that the t-shirt company does technically have the right to deny making pro-homosexual t-shirts because they are technically publishers. However, I think if the Gay and Lesbian Organization can convince the court that this is more discrimination against homosexuals than it is about beliefs of the company then I think they can win the case. I think if I had to choose who would win, I would say that the Gay and Lesbian Organization would win due to the case with the bakery that wouldn't bake a wedding cake for a gay couple since this case happened so recently. I also think that the jury will be more sympathetic towards the Gay and Lesbian Organization due to the recent wedding cake case. I think the question as to whether the t-shirt company should be forced to print pro-homosexual shirts is a little bit tricky. Emotionally, I do not think it is right for them to deny printing pro-homosexual t-shirts because of how incredibly painful it is to the gay and lesbian community to have finally get the right to marry whoever they want ans then to have continued discrimination. However, I think that the t-shirt company should not have to print something they don't want to print; they have the right to deny anyone of service.

Tara Young said...

I agree with Rachael that the t-shirt company has the right to deny making pro-homosexual t-shirts based on the First Amendment rights and the fact that they are creating a product that contains words. I believe that the precedent about the bakery being forced to make a cake for a gay couple will not carry as much weight as predicted because comparing to this case and the t-shirts case, the product is different. The t-shirts will actually display a message that the company does not wish to support, while the cake could have looked like any other cake for a heterosexual couple. The bakery's reasons for not providing their services to the gay couple were centered on their personal beliefs, but the t-shirt company claims that they are not supporting the event, which seems a little less biased. Therefore, I believe that the t-shirt company will win the case as it is a stronger matter of the First Amendment than the cake case, as it involving actual printed words. I don't think that the t-shirt company should be forced to print the t-shirts because as discussed in class, companies are considered to have individual rights and the first Amendment is an extremely important right that the court would not want to violate. On the other hand, the Gay and Lesbian Organization will have strong support, which could possibly affect the court's decision. Public opinion, while is not supposed to influence judges, can do so anyways, even though judges are supposed to rule based on written law.

Adjon Tahiraj said...

I think this case could go wither way. I think the company, since it has already won in court once, and they have a good reason for not wanting to make the shirts, has a higher chance of winning. The t-shirt company is arguing that they have their first amendment right to not make this shirt and because they are a christian company they should not be forced to make clothing that promotes this message. In addition the company is stating evidence that it has also denied to provide clothing to organizations such as strip clubs whose ideals the company is also against, so it is not having prejudice against the homosexual community.
I think these are some pretty strong arguments and that they will be able to hold a lot of ground in court therefore I think the t-shirt company has a higher chance of winning.

As to your second questions, I don't think that the company should not be forced to make the shirts. This is definitely not something that I am 100% sure on, because it is hard to say weather the owners are really devout christians who have held these ideas for a long time, or they are just being hateful towards the homosexual community. I believe that if this is truly a religion based argument and that this is what the owners of the company truly believe on then they should not be forced to do something that is against their beliefs. Another good argument that I think will benefit the company is that it is not refusing all service to the organization that asked for the shirts, the company would be willing to print any sort of shirt for them as long as it did not have a message that went against their beliefs. So it is not just a simple denial of service because of their homosexuality, they do not want to be associated with the message that the people ordering the shirt are trying to put out there.
But one problem that this whole thing brings up is, how do you know if this is truly something they believe on and have lived their lives following their religion, or they are just being hateful of the gay community and refusing service using religion or personal beliefs as an excuse.

Carolyn Ku said...

Like Hobby Lobby, Hands On Originals is a clearly religiously run organization -- their slogan is "Christian Outfitters." While the First Amendment could be used to argue that Hands On Originals is exercising freedom of religion, I also think that the Civil Rights Act could also be used. In this case, the Civil Rights Act does not protect against service discrimination based on sexual orientation; it is up to states to institute laws that protect against sexual orientation discrimination, but Kentucky does not have such laws. Also, under the Religious Freedom Act, there has to be "clear and convincing evidence" in order for the state to infringe on an individual's religious beliefs.

On the other hand, Hands On Originals is a t-shirt company, and people use their clothing to express their own beliefs. So, if a company is refusing to print a certain shirt, is that not also stifling their customers' freedom to wear what they want and express their own beliefs? So, the First Amendment could also be construed to support the side of the Gay and Lesbian Organization if it was decided that the customer's individual freedom of expression trumps the corporation's freedom of religion.

Daniel Jun said...

Well, what if homosexuality, the company did not want to print out shirts supporting Planned Parenthood? Or some other organization that has its roots in a highly contentious area of politics and morals? Or what if the company had legitimate fears that the shirts they made would be used in some kind of immoral or even illegal rally that could result in bad publicity and thus lost profits?

But perhaps the only solid piece of analysis that can be taken from the article is that this case is complex. The fact of the matter is that this case is not black and white- there are multiple fiscal, social, and political reasons why a business should be able to have at least SOME discretion in its customers (eg: no shirt, no shoes, no service).

Of course, this invites the question as to how much jurisdiction to give the individual companies, and how much is too much. While this is technically discrimination (which it is, without a doubt), it makes sense for this business at least to have some jurisdiction. After all, if you were forced to make 200 shirts bearing a message that you do not agree to, that means you were coerced to support a message that they may not want to support, which is unconstitutional.

TJ Bonbright said...

I see this case as being very difficult for the Gay and Lesbian Organization to win. The reason I say this is because Hands On Originals has a very strong argument in that they cannot be forced to print speech they do not agree with. In past cases, such as Gitlow v. New York and Brandenburg v. Ohio, the First Amendment has come into play to protect people who express opinions that another party does not agree with. However, this time the situation is reversed; the First Amendment is now used to protect a party from expressing something it does not wish to express. This presents a very interesting scenario, and we should analyze what would happen if the case is decided against Hands On Originals. If the company is forced to print the shirts, thereby expressing an opinion they do not want to express, then the court sets a very dangerous precedent. The court would be allowing one party to force another party to say something it does not want to say, which directly conflicts with the concept of freedom of speech, a principle that must be interpreted both ways, in terms of speech and also silence. Thus, forcing Hands On Originals to print the t shirts is no better than censoring someone based on his or her own political beliefs.

Christopher Duan said...

I agree with Rachael's stance on the issue. While it is restricting the ability of the Gay and Lesbian Organization to express their opinion, it is easier for the t-shirt company to argue that they don't need to make these shirts, simply because their beliefs and religious values would be thereby violated.
Though this is technically "restricting" one's ability to express these opinions, I feel that forcing someone else's compliance with an issue I feel strongly about, and they don't agree with morally is unjustifiable. There are still thousands if not more companies that will make T-shirts customized to your pleasure, and so the Gay and Lesbian Organization can take their business elsewhere if Hands On Originals is not comfortable with making these shirts.

Abhishek Paramasivan said...

I think that the printing company does have a good legal stance in this case. As a private business they do reserve the right to refuse a printing order service to any customer as the current rulings guaranteeing service only protect people in public areas. As Daniel stated, there are fiscal, social and political reasons why they would refuse. While it may be legal, this event will probably end up severely shifting its market base because more liberal areas will not buy from them because the consumers feel the company is being unfair. However, more conservative people will probably keep using them as a service because they might not be offended by this event.

Danny Halawi said...

Regarding Rachael's opinion, I'm not too sure if the Gay and Lesbian Organization will win because an organization can be excused of providing service if they can prove that their religious beliefs go against that service. Yes, the jury might be more sympathetic to the Gay and Lesbian organization simply because there's a huge pro-gay movement right now and because of the precedent wedding cake case; however, our constitution has rules, and we cannot infringe on a person's or group's beliefs. Also, Tara brings up a good point; making a wedding cake for a gay couple and printing a message are two different things. One is just making any other cake for a customer, while the other is clearly supporting a cause and the pro-gay movement.

Also, Adjon brings up a good point here, the company isn't specifically hating on gay people. They explicitly stated that the reason why they aren't printing the message isn't because they're trying to discriminate against the gay customers, but because the movement goes against their beliefs. Other nuances of this case is the fact that unlike the wedding cake case, this case involves the first amendment. My initial though was that the first amendment would only be used to help the t-shirt company, but Carolyn brings up an interesting view that I didn't consider, in that the first amendment could even be used against them because t-shirts could be used as an object that helps express the peoples own beliefs and not printing them infringes on the customers freedom to express what they want.

My opinion here is that there are just too many things to consider, and it's going to be interesting to see the outcome of the case, but if I had to guess which side will win, I would think that the t-shirt company's agenda will prevail.

Alex Binsacca said...

Kind of going along with the flow (While I may not agree with their decision) I too think the the T Shirt company does have the right to decide what they want to print on their shirts. However, this case can go literally either way because if the courts infringe a baking company to pay a settlement for a homosexual couple, then I don't see why they would not use the same precedent for a T Shirt company. I think the only difference that this case has is a bigger tie to the first amendment. Where the Oregon case was more service issue, this case seems more like a freedom of speech issue. If I had to guess though I think that the gay/lesbian group will win, as not only can they also use the first amendment, but as the state official said no company can refuse the right of service to someone based on their sexual orientation. So basically going off of what Danny said I too think that the end result of the case will be really interesting.