Hands On Originals is a T-shirt company in Lexington, Kentucky that is now under fire for refusing the business of the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which organizes Lexington’s annual gay pride festival every June. The organization wanted to print up some T-shirts, and the company told them to take their business somewhere else. The reason: the T-shirt company is a “Christian organization”, and the owners don’t want to assist in promoting a message that goes against their religious beliefs.
The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed a complaint, and now there will be an investigation to decide whether this violates Lexington’s Fairness Act, which protects people and organizations from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Lexington’s mayor has weighed in against Hands On, and boycotts against the company and the closely related company Wildcat Wearhouse have been threatened. Meanwhile the attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the T-shirt company, argues that “No business owner should be forced to violate his conscience simply because someone demands it. The Constitution absolutely supports the rights of business owners to decline a request to support a message that conflicts with their deeply held convictions.”
I am not going to comment on the legal and constitutional issues, but the ethical issue is clear. Should society respect the choice of a business to refuse to provide products or services to groups, individuals or causes it opposes or objects to on moral or religious grounds?
I don’t respect it. Legal or not, such conduct flunks Kant’s Rule of Universality big time. If everyone did this, society would fragment into little hostile fiefdoms, aggravating discord, distrust and resentment among groups, and unraveling the fabric of the community.
To the T-shirt company’s defenders, the reaction of the gay organization is proof of hypocrisy. One writes:
“Here’s a hypothetical for you. What if the owner of the T-shirt company was gay? And what if Westboro Baptist Church placed an order for 10 dozen T-shirts which said “God hates faggots” on them? What if the T-shirt shop owner refused the order because of his principles? Same reaction? I’d guess no. In fact, I’d guess precisely the opposite reaction.”
Yup, completely opposite reaction. That’s because the gay owner would be rejecting a hateful message, not the group itself, and if he had been smart, he would have established policies about the kinds of messages—obscene, hateful, denigrating— he wouldn’t print, based on rational criteria. If the gay owner refused to print a simple T-shirt with the name of the church on it but no anti-gay message, then the situations would be equivalent. Then I’d say that both companies were behaving exactly as unethically. Would the community show as much outrage on behalf of Fred Phelps’ motley gang of bigots? I doubt it, but that’s a different matter. Ethically, a company should provide the same services to all, and should not stigmatize or disadvantage a group purely on the basis of who and what they are. That is un-American. That is not consistent with the Golden Rule. That is a principle that doesn’t work. That is unfair, unkind, disrespectful, and poor citizenship. That is, in a word, unethical.
I know libertarians, like Kentucky’s own U.S. Senator Rand Paul, fail to grasp this, or at least refuse to acknowledge that when ethics fails to stop citizens of a free society from treating each other so atrociously, the law may have to step in and is right to do so. Nevertheless, this is an embodiment of the truism underlying the Supreme Court ‘s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, that separate is inherently unequal. It is wrong to treat a race, a religion, a nationality, a gender, a generation, or a sexual orientation as if it was less than the rest, and force members of such groups to be represented to the community as pariahs, undesirables, untouchables, or unworthy of equal treatment. Whether it is legal or not to treat people this way, it is surely wrong.
Ethics Alarms has never wavered from this position, whether it concerns bridal shops that discriminate against same sex couples, or so-called conscience clauses that allow pharmacist to withhold their services based on religious beliefs. No one should interfere with other Americans’ practice of their religious beliefs, until they begin practicing those beliefs on others to their detriment.
The community has every reason to loudly and emphatically criticize and reject a business like Hands On Originals, which without any plausible utilitarian rationale chooses to treat other citizens as undesirables. In this case, the company’s refusal to print the T-shirts accomplished nothing but an insult. It will not discourage the relationships that the owners find immoral. It does nothing but hurt and injure. The T-shirts will still be printed; the gay festival will still take place. Treating the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization like the company’s owners treat every other customer will not make the owners complicit in activities they disapprove of, any more that making any other T-shirt assists customers who private lives or intended uses of the shirts might shock them. What do we call conduct that only damages society, pulls it apart, encourages inequality and bigotry while feeding hate and distrust?
We call it unethical, and if necessary, illegal.
[Great thanks to Phil Kraemer for the tip.]
55 thoughts on “T-shirt Ethics and Bigotry In Lexington, Kentucky”
Would you have the same argument if the organization was the man-boy love organization? Just wondering….
Probably not. That’s refusing to assist in the promotion of a crime, not discriminating against a group.
Yet they are from a Christian group and they are being slandered and discriminated against and their belief???????
No, they are being justly criticized by discriminating against customers based on factors that the US government says cannot be used as a basis for discrimination. You can believe whatever you want, until your acting on your belief makes me less than an equal member of society. Slander suggests that what is being said about the company isn’t true. It is. And nobody is refusing to provide good and services to the owners because of their bigotry, as far as I know. This is called The Golden Rule.
It took me all of 2 seconds to Google and realize you didn’t report the whole truth. Disappointing, even Fox can do a better job than this.
How about telling me what you’re referring to?
It was from zoebrain’s post , informing that Hands on Originals submitted a bid for a tender put out by the organizers of Lexington Pride. This would change the ethical analysis, as this is not a case where the GLSO directly solicited business from Hands on Originals.
How does that change anything? I said up front I wasn’t addressing the legal issues. The company would not handle the T-shirt because it disapproved of what the message supported, though the message itself was benign, and the message supported rights for the group printing the T-shirt. Her analogy, “I’d say the same for a firm that refused to supply “Black Pride” shirts because they were a “Christian Organization” and didn’t believe the “Negro Lifestyle” conformed to Biblical Principles. As long as the same quality goods were delivered on time, at the same cost” is similarly unethical. It’s bigotry, and religion-generated bigotry is still bigotry, still harmful, still without rational justification, and still unethical, because it permits businesses to rank the populace or its beliefs according to a scale of acceptability. A business that refuses to treat everyone’s legal needs the same is an unethical business, if not an illegal one.
And I STILL don’t know what the hell Joe is referring to.
While I agree that businesses shouldn’t refuse work off the street just because they don’t like the message of the customer, in this situation, we don’t actually get to that. Bidding on a contract, and then deciding you don’t want to fill it later based on the customer, is a whole different level of unethical. Even the people arguing with your analysis can’t argue that what the print shop did in this situation was ethical.
Baloney, by the way. I linked to the press accounts: I didn’t hide a thing. Posting a comment obliquely accusing me of half-truths without specifying is unethical commenting…I’ll give you 24 hours to specify, and after that the comment gets deleted, and you get banned. If you have a correction to make, make it, and I’ll thank you for it. What you did is just unfair and obnoxious, and I won’t tolerate it.
Is it any less insulting to insist that Christians print T-shirts that promote a lifestyle they find immoral? It seems there is a double standard here. The Christians need to bow to the feelings of the gay community, but the gay community is not reuqired to extend Christians the same courtesy.
And will you even change minds on this issue? No, more liekly, you will only convince many Christians that people like Rick Santorum are right when they say that there is a war on religious freedom.
Or are you arguing that Christians have LESS of a right to freedom of conscience than other communities?
This essentially is written as if you didn’t read the post. I explained the difference.
Printing a goup’s T-shirt has no implications for the Christian owners at all. I would expect an atheist company tp print a pro-Christian shirt.There’s no double standard. It’s not your content; its not your design: it’s not your cause. If you want to announce in advance that you only print Christian message T-shirts, that’s fine. That’s like the deli that only sell kosher food. You’re limiting your market, not discriminating.
The T-shirt company’s objection is to the message, not the messenger. The proposed T-shirt plainly promotes the Lexington Pride Festival, a specific event. Nothing in the article indicates that the owner would print a T-shirt celebrating the Lexington Pride Festival for a different customer.
Your analysis would be more to the point if a T-shirt maker were to refuse to print an Independence Day T-shirt for the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, while printing a T-shirt with an identical message for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In that example, the objection would clearly be based on the messenger, not the message.
It’s the messengers and the event. If you had brought in that logo, dollars to donuts they would have printed it. What business do they have interfering with someone else’s event? You’re the one being legalistic: I’m sure you articulated part of the company’s defense, and it might prevail—legally. Ethically, don’t kid yourself or me. We know what was going on.
Nothing in your article suggests that the owner in question would print a T-shirt promoting the Lexington Pride Festival for anyone.
Refusal to print a T-shirt does not equal interference.
Baloney. They are saying that they will withhold services for someone else’s event to express gratuitous disapproval—the disapproval amounting to an expression of bigotry—and for no other reason. Who asked for their approval? Of course it equal’s interference—it’s a hassle, its an inconvenience, and it is treatment they do not subject others to. I would sure treat it as interference.
So moral disapproval of an event is wrong? That is where you are wrong.
If this T-shirt company were to refuse to print “Happy Independence Day” T-shirts for GLSO, while printing them for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, that would be discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation Similarly, if a T-shirt company were to refuse to print “Lexington Pride Festival” T-shirts for GLSO, but did so for the Chamber of Commerce, that would be discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
What is being refused is not service to a certain type of customer, but a type of service to anyone.
Morality is often unethical, and this is a perfect example. The company can disapprove all it wants. When it uses the withholding of services it offers to the rest of the community, however, to express that disapproval, it is treating a legitimate group as pariahs. That is wrong, and the fact that the owners justify their cruel conduct by blindly referencing a ancient text written by people who thought the sun moved around the earth doesn’t and can’t make it right.
The message is linked to the group, because the message–and the logo, you may note, says nothing at all—is simply that the group has validity. Your version of discrimination is willfully dishonest or sadly dense. A group who the owners disapprove of has rejected a T-shirt that says “we matter”, and everyone knows it. Rejecting it says, “No, we believe you don’t matter, and that you are sinful blights on society.” Arguing that this doesn’t violate the spirit of anti-bias is inexcusable.
Morality is never> unethical.
Where in the article does it hint that Hands on Originals was willing to print Lexington Pride Festival T-shirts for others, like the Chamber of Commerce, but not the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, on the basis that the latter is gay?
The logo is of the Lexington Pride Festival, an event that the T-shirt make opposes.
See my earlier comment.
And again, morality is often unethical, when, as in this case, it dictates harmful comments with no benefits other than compliance with a moral code. Ethics is sometimes called “weighed morality” meaning someone thinks about the impact of a rule before blindly doing it. A robot can be moral. Doing the right thing takes thought, analysis and practice.
You are wrong. It is known as pride and what it stands for. I feel the shop owner is in right to their belief just as gays are.
Aside from everything. It is against their beliefs. Because they just mite be offended you are supposed to bend. I can say I have had voices on both sides. If we in our little family can figure out how to respect others then so should everyone else. Today’s people are weak, whiny, and full of disrespect for anyone’s feelings except their own. Maybe you do offend people by walking down the street. I’ve seen some in underwear. Marching down the street. What does that have to do with a belief? That is a sexual preference. Yet you dog on a Christian person who has more then just a sexual agenda. No stealing, swearing, cheating, lying, no man to man women to women, no killing, no other gods. It is a list. A whole list not just except us. You are sad and to think I can sit in a restaurant and eat with kids and others swearing and talking about sex in front of my young children, and that’s okay. But a shop refusing to go against their beliefs is wrong. WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO BE THE ONLY ONE THAT DESERVES RIGHTS?????????? THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO BELIEVE IN WHAT THEY BELIEVE IN. GROW UP!!!!!!!!
1. You’re welcome for the 5 minutes I had to spend cleaning up your comment. I considered no doing so, because at some point carelessness in composition is indicia of sloppiness in thought, but since I clean up other posts, I thought that would be unfair.
2. The comment, even corrected, is incoherent.
3. Hurting others because of your beliefs is still hurting others. There is no hardship in accepting money to do what you do for everyone else on behalf of a client whose lifestyle you disapprove of, or, rather, that some First Century theologians who wanted to represent their own helpful hints to live by into the Word of God. I bet even they never thought people would be obeying them 2,000 years later.
Simple just simple. They know what it stands for. So there for they will promote it. I do photography. If I refuse to photograph gays together because I feel uncomfortable is that the same (in your eyes)?
Sure. It’s bigotry. You have a right to be a bigot; just don’t expect just and fair and civilized people to respect you for it. That’s also simple.
So you do not respect the decision of a kosher deli to refuse to sell ham.
Or a T-shirt company’s decision to refuse an order to print T-shirts with a blasphemous message.
Or Isaac Hayes’s decision to leave South Park because what was said about Scientology.
1. Huh? A kosher deli doesn’t sell ham, period.
2. No. Unless it has a pre-stated policy making that clear in advance.
3. This is ridiculous. He has a right to work for whomever he wants to. Again, if he exercises that right in a denigrating fashion because of bigotry, no, I don’t respect that. Protesting the content of an artistic work you are collaborating on, however, is a personal choice, unless you are violating a prior commitment. But it depends. Would I respect an actor who quit 1776 because he was anti-America? No, because I don’t respect that opinion.There is no such thing as illegal discrimination in who you work FOR. An artistic talent is not a typical commodity. What group is he discriminating against? Who is he denigrating?
Surely this concept isn’t that hard to grasp.
There might be some apples in with your oranges…
So you do not respect the decision of a kosher deli to refuse to sell ham.
This might be more like walking into the Ford dealer and expecting them to sell you a new Corvette. They are in business to sell Fords; there are people in business to sell Chevys and that is where you go to buy one. Should KFC be forced to sell hot dogs? You want ham? One word: Honeybaked.
Or a T-shirt company’s decision to refuse an order to print T-shirts with a blasphemous message.
Like Jack said, not if the company had a policy against printing such things, or obscene logos, etc. [Not that Jack can’t carry his own water, should it need carrying.] This is closer to a real issue since all that was requested in the actual case was the printing of the name of an organization… not a recommendation for or against the lifestyle. I’ll stop here, lest this spin off into a discussion on the Free Will of Man… had enough of that in humanities too many years ago.
Or Isaac Hayes’s decision to leave South Park because what was said about Scientology.
This is an individual exercising his freedom to participate. He didn’t want to contribute to something he felt went against this beliefs. This would be like the guy running the silk screen machine not liking the organization getting the shirts and walking off the job.
All that said, I can see the T-shirt guy’s point, unless his was the only source of shirts for hundreds of miles… but I would think there were more than a couple of such businesses in Lexington, KY. If he stated his objection politely, even suggesting an alternate vendor, things could have worked out. On the other hand it gets a little tiring seeing every affront, or alleged affront, becoming an “issue” and having to get some commission, or committee, or court involved. Sometimes our whole society needs to just grow up.
The essence of the complaint is breach of contract.
The Organisers put out tenders for supply. Hands on Originals submitted a bid. The bid was accepted.
Only at contracted time of delivery were the organisers informed that no goods would be forthcoming.
Unless the parties settle the case, the investigation could lead to a public hearing at which compensatory damages could be issued to the GLSO should the independent hearing examiner find in its favor. The law does not allow for punitive damages, Sexton said, but compensatory damages could account perhaps for the cost of time spent researching other T-shirt printers or higher costs associated with ordering from a different company.
Legally, they’re in the wrong.
Having said that, this is the important issue ethically:
If true – and there is reason to believe that there would be additional costs involved. so apparently it was not – then I don’t think they acted unethically. Just illegally.
I’d say the same for a firm that refused to supply “Black Pride” shirts because they were a “Christian Organisation” and didn’t believe the “Negro Lifestyle” conformed to Biblical Principles. As long as the same quality goods were delivered on time, at the same cost.
I think you are dead wrong on the ethics, Zoe. (Right on the law, probably, but in this instance I don’t care about the law, and didn’t read Lexington’s statute.)
Their refusal to serve the group is an insult and places a stigma on the organization, and for no good purpose whatsoever. No T-Shirt company believes it is actively aiding and abetting the purposes of clients, nor does a company typically inquire about what a client will do with their product—it’s none of their business. That logo was innocuous. You example is similarly unethical. They can’t practice their religion in ways that stigmatize. They are welcome to their views on “Negro Lifestyle,” but not welcome to treat those lives differently than any other customer. As I said—it flunks Kant (if everybody did this, we’d be in Hell), it flunks reciprocity; it flunks utilitarianism. So how can it be ethical? Under what theory, if it does tangible harm (and it does; simply getting the T-shirts is a legal solution, not an ethical one.)?
I think Zoe brings up an interesting point. If someone refuses to do something on conscience grounds but supplies an alternative provider, then Kant’s imperative has not been violated. As a thought experiment, think about two breakfast restaurants that are located side by side. One is run by a little-ender who refuses to crack eggs on their larger side and the other by a big-ender who refuses to crack eggs on their smaller side. If the big-ender restaurant has agreed in advance with the little-ender restaurant that they will send people who refuse to eat eggs cracked on the big end to the little-ender restaurant and vice versa, are the restaurants being unethical?
Yes. Because if everybody engages in similar arbitrary nonsense, we’ll have people shuttled off to different stores and restaurants by party affiliation, by hair color, eye color and taste in music, not to mention height, weight, race and religion. That’s why Kant is not satisfied. The universal conduct is gratuitous discrimination based on narrow-minded standards. The world can’t function that way. It’s wrong.
So you are saying that the problem isn’t necessarily that people will not be able to get an essential service, but that atomization of customers based on preferences or characteristics prevents different parts of society from interacting with each other? If this is your point, then I generally agree with you.
Yes. Thus, “If everyone did this, society would fragment into little hostile fiefdoms, aggravating discord, distrust and resentment among groups, and unraveling the fabric of the community.” But I like atomization, and should have had the wit to use it. Thanks.
It all comes down to this.
Do they have a business liscense? If the answer is yes then have an obligation to serve all members of the community that hire them for their services. Period. We dont get to pick and choose what laws we obey.
Is there any evidence that the company printed T-shirts celebrating the Lexington Pride Festivals for others?
Is there any evidence they refused to print T-shirts for GLSO, while printing identical T-shirts for other parties?
Do they print tee shirts for the public? Yes.
Did they refuse to print tee shirts for these people ? Yes.
Then they should not have a business license .
If my plumbing goes to someone’s house and refuses to do work based on anything other the safety, code reasons or the ability of the client to pay then I’ve violated my obligation to serve the public.
That’s how I see it.
“Hands on Originals — Christian Outfitters”
Right to Refusal
Hands On Originals both 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 Hands On Originals to refuse any order that would endorse positions that conflict with the convictions of the ownership.
“Including positions like equal opportunities and rights for people of all genders, races, religions, sexual preferences, and national origins.”
This will go on my list of dishonest and self-contradictory disclaimers. What a crock.
No, there is no unequal treatment. Hands on Originals is not printing Lexington Pride Festival T-shirts for anyone. GLSO is not being treated differently than the Chamber of Commerce.
That’s sophistry, and I suspect (and hope) you know it. “We don’t ever discriminate, EXCEPT against messages from groups advocating non-discrimination against them.” The disclaimer is deceitful, insincere, and too vague to be useful or genuine. Give me a break. Weasel words aren’t Christian. I wouldn’t print the disclaimer on a T-shirt, because it would make smart and fair people throw up.
The discrimination is on the basis of the message, not the messenger.
You can keep repeating that line, Michael, but that won’t make it true. The message is that the group is equal to everyone else. Rejecting the message but accepting the group is impossible. As they well know. Whether they can get awy with it legally or not doesn’t change the fact that it’s wrong.
A court agreed with me.
“In short, HOO’s declination to print the shirts was based upon the message of GLSO and the Pride Festival and not on the sexual orientation of its representatives or members”
I wonder about the pharmacy opinions now. A pharmacy is losing its drug supplier because the government decided it is filling to many prescriptions for painkillers. The pharmacy’s owners explained that two other discount pharmacies closed in that part of town (poor part of town) and they are the only one left (and the cheapest for such prescriptions for miles). The prescriptions are valid. What should they have done? It sounds like the government is asking them to refuse to fill prescriptions from certain types of people.
So now the government is telling the pharmacies to only fill certain prescriptions and only for certain people. Is it OK for the pharmacy to do it when the government tells them who not to sell to, but not when the pharmacy decides itself? Why doesn’t the government just go after the physicians prescribing the drugs?
This is a different issue entirely. It’s the result of the stupid war on drugs and law enforcement officers thinking they know more about medicince than the medical professionals do.
Also, the government does go after the doctors, in exactly the same unethical and counterproductive way.
This is yet another example of how regulations hurt, not protect.
The most egregious example was when a dude in Quincy, Illinois starting driving drunks home for free . This was legal. The cab companies complained, so the city council passed a law that made the dude’s activities illegal.
Tell me again how regulations save lives?
“Stupid regulations are stupid” does not imply that “all regulation is stupid”. Cab company regulations often seem to be pure protectionism.
Kind of surprising they would spend their money with a company who’s tagline is ‘Christian Outfitters’. One would think that might be an indicator of what to expect.
That’s kind of a bigoted statement itself. Most Christians actually act like Christians, without hurting or degrading others.
Yes but MOST Christians also do not call their company Christian unless they mean to make an evangelical or fundamentalist statement. What exactly do you look for in a Christian Book Store?
A statement on a website does not constitute sufficient public notice. How often to you check a website of a local store before purchasing something? And while a Christian product is fairly clear, what’s a Christian service? If an innocuous T-shirt was going to be used in a wat T-0shirt competition, would this place refuse to print it? I have no idea….and I bet they don’t either. They are making up the rules as they go along. Wrong. Unfair.
As zoebrain noted, the GLSO did not go to Christian Outfitters. Christian Outfitters bid on the contract to supply the T-Shirts. It would have been a unethical and (likely) illegal for GLSO to not go with the winning bidder. Also, stupid.
Here is an update .
Others have pointed out there are breach of contract issues as well, but breach of contract claims were not before the court. (In general, courts deciding an appeal only review the questions presented by the court or other decisionmaking body below. )