CNA—The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment’s free speech clause protects a Colorado web designer who feared she would be prosecuted under state anti-discrimination law for her faith-based objections to designing websites that promote same-sex marriage or same-sex weddings.
Lorie Smith, owner of the graphic and web design studio 303 Creative LLC, filed the legal challenge. It was not a response to government action; rather, it was a pre-enforcement challenge intended to prevent the use of the law against her.
Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act vs. U.S. Constitution on freedom of speech
Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The question before the court was whether compelling an artist to speak or stay silent violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause. It did not take up the question of whether it is a religious freedom violation.
“In this case, Colorado seeks to force an individual to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience about a matter of major significance,” Justice Neil Gorsuch said in the 6-3 decision. “But, as this court has long held, the opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our republic strong.
“Of course, abiding by the Constitution’s commitment to the freedom of speech means all of us will encounter ideas we consider ‘unattractive,’ ‘misguided,’ or even ‘hurtful,’ but tolerance, not coercion, is our nation’s answer. The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands.”
Smith was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) legal group, and her attorneys argued that state law affects creative professionals who have religious or moral concerns about creating content that violates their beliefs.
ADF characterized the decision as a “landmark” victory.
“More than just a win for Lorie Smith, this is a sweeping free speech victory for every American,” the group said on Twitter Friday.
LANDMARK SCOTUS VICTORY: Today the Supreme Court strongly reaffirmed free speech in our case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, ruling 6-3 that govt may not compel Americans to express messages they don’t believe.
More than just a win for Lorie Smith, this is a sweeping #freespeech…
— Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal) June 30, 2023
303 Creative v. Elenis invoked several U.S. Supreme Court precedents
Gorsuch’s decision in the case known as 303 Creative v. Elenis invoked several Supreme Court precedents. Students are protected from being compelled to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance; a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston could not be forced to include a gay, lesbian, and bisexual group; and the Boy Scouts could not be forced to include a gay man as a scout leader.
“Today, the court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class,” she objected. “The law in question targets conduct, not speech, for regulation, and the act of discrimination has never constituted protected expression under the First Amendment.”
Sotomayor said the decision had consequences beyond questions of sexual orientation and gender identity and would allow the exclusion of other groups from many services.
Colorado’s disturbing business censorship
Artist Lori Smith told CNA in December 2022: “I serve everyone, including those who identify as LGBT. I love to custom create and will work with anyone — there are simply some messages I can’t create regardless of who asks me.” She said her case is about freedom of speech for all artists.
“After I started my own design studio, I wanted to expand my portfolio to custom-create art and websites to tell stories about weddings, but Colorado made it clear I wasn’t welcome in that space.”
She said she challenged the law because she didn’t want “to be punished for saying what I believe.”
“Colorado officials are censoring my speech and forcing me to speak messages about marriage that are inconsistent with my beliefs — the core of who I am.”
- Supreme Court to hear case of designer who won’t create websites for same-sex weddings – Catholic Business Journal
- Court Victory for California cake artist Cathy Miller, targeted for religious discrimination – Catholic Business Journal
- Religious Freedom: 22 States support masterpiece cakeshop owner’s right to create freely – Catholic Business Journal