Supreme Court Upholds Web Designer’s Rights in Same-Sex Marriage Case
In a significant ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the First Amendment’s free speech clause to safeguard the rights of a Colorado web designer who faced potential prosecution under state anti-discrimination law due to her faith-based objections to creating websites promoting same-sex marriage or same-sex weddings.
Lorie Smith, owner of 303 Creative LLC, a graphic and web design studio, brought forth this legal challenge as a preemptive measure to prevent the law from being used against her. It is important to note that the case did not address whether this constituted a violation of religious freedom, but rather focused on whether compelling an artist to express or remain silent goes against the First Amendment’s free speech protections.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, in a 6-3 decision, stated, “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. 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. Tolerance, not coercion, is our nation’s answer.”
The legal representation for Lorie Smith came from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which hailed the ruling as a “landmark” victory. They described it as a sweeping triumph for free speech that extends to all Americans.
Justice Gorsuch’s decision, known as 303 Creative v. Elenis, drew upon various Supreme Court precedents, including cases involving students’ right to refrain from saluting the flag, a St. Patrick’s Day parade’s freedom to exclude a particular group, and the Boy Scouts’ ability to reject a gay scout leader.
However, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, dissented, arguing that the decision granted a constitutional right to businesses to refuse service to protected classes for the first time in the Court’s history. Sotomayor emphasized that the law in question regulated conduct rather than speech and that discrimination had never been considered protected expression under the First Amendment.
It is important to highlight that Lorie Smith, in her own words, stated that she serves everyone, including members of the LGBT community, but there are certain messages she cannot create due to her beliefs. She stressed that her case is about freedom of speech for all artists.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, among other groups, filed amicus briefs in support of Lorie Smith’s position.
The panel acknowledged that the Colorado law compelled Smith to create websites and speech that she would otherwise refuse and posed a substantial risk of suppressing certain ideas or viewpoints, including Smith’s beliefs about marriage. However, it ruled in favor of the law, partly due to Smith’s creation of “custom and unique” expressions.
This case, known as 303 Creative, challenged the same Colorado law that brought baker Jack Phillips and his business, Masterpiece Cakeshop, to the Supreme Court after he declined to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. The Supreme Court’s June 2018 ruling in favor of Phillips found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown hostility towards his religious beliefs.
Phillips is currently facing another lawsuit for allegedly refusing to bake a cake celebrating a transgender attorney’s gender transition. He argues that his cakes are a form of speech and plans to appeal a ruling against him in the Colorado Court of Appeals.