Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way… .”

So begins Dickens’ classic. Another chapter of A Tale of Two Cities  unfolded in two Kentucky communities last Tuesday when Berea voted down a Fairness Ordinance which would have elevated sexual orientation and gender identity to civil rights protection on par with race and ethnicity. Lexington’s Human Rights Commission (LHRC) on the other hand invoked their long dormant ordinance to pronounce guilt on a Christian-owned business that declined to print T-shirts for a gay-pride event. Such incidents, no longer isolated, signify that we’ve entered a season of Darkness and winter of despair for religious freedom and rights of conscience.

Lest I be accused of overstating, consider the facts. In 2012, Hands On Originals co-owner Blaine Adamson refused to fill a T-shirt order for Lexington’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization’s (GLSO) Pride event.  Adamson objected out of religious conviction, not animus or hatred toward homosexuals. He believed the message that his company was asked to print would violate who he was and what he believed. Adamson, even went out of his way to help find another company to help fill their order.  Nonetheless, the LHRC found Adamson and his crew guilty of violating the rights of GLSO organizers and sentenced them to mandatory diversity training.

Isn’t diversity what Adamson was practicing until the Uniformity Police stepped in and ordered him to shelve his religious beliefs? The object of such training is to get Adamson and company to repent of their unfashionable ways, step into the brave new world of blurred moral boundaries, and embrace the state-approved view of sexual ethics.  While this isn’t the French Revolution that served as the backdrop of Dickens’ tale, it’s certainly a moral revolution where the new-found right of sexual expression has superseded the right of religious conviction.

The basis for Lexington’s Fairness Ordinance is the assumption that disapproval of homosexuality is tantamount to bigotry. The ugliness of hate toward another simply because of their skin color or ethnicity is indefensible, and a blight on civil society. But equating skin color to sexual behavior is an unfair comparison. Homosexuals never faced fire hoses or forced to drink from separate fountains. Nor were they denied the right to vote. No religion teaches that skin color is a sin.  However, the major world religions clearly teach that human sexuality has moral boundaries—boundaries that have made civilization possible, boundaries the LHRC is blurring.

LHRC is obligated to policing human rights violations but what about protecting Mr. Adamson’s inherent human right of religious freedom?  Is his belief about human sexuality inferior to the beliefs of homosexual activists? Is there no longer any room in the public square for religiously informed beliefs? And does refusal to convey an objectionable message really constitute violation of another’s human right?

The ruling sends a chilling message to Lexington’s practicing Christian, Jewish or Muslim business owners who will be forced to lend their time, talent and energy to promote messages and ideas which violate their deepest help religious beliefs. No person should be forced to violate their conscience.  The kosher Jewish deli owner shouldn’t be forced to make ham sandwiches for a Neo-Nazi event. Nor should the homosexual owner of a printing company be forced to fill an order for members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

The city of Berea refused to join the cultural revolution that has elevated sexual expression to status of the sacred.  Lexington chose instead to criminalize an individual’s religiously informed beliefs about human conduct. It’s the 21st century’s version of A Tale of Two Cities. The next edition could be coming to a town near you.