The United States Supreme Court ruled Friday that Colorado cannot force graphic designer Lorie Smith to create art that violates her religious beliefs.
Smith, who believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, wants to create wedding websites. But under Colorado’s discrimination laws, if she were to create such wedding websites, she would be compelled to do so for same-sex weddings.
Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, Smith had asked the Supreme Court to say that Colorado’s discrimination law violated her rights. ADF asked the court: Can the government compel an artist to create custom artwork or speech that goes against the core of who that artist is?
And on Friday, the court decided that the government cannot. The vote was 6-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett ruling that the government could not compel speech. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
“The First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees,” wrote Gorsuch, writing for the majority.
“The First Amendment’s protections belong to all, not just to speakers whose motives the government finds worthy. 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,” Gorsuch also wrote, adding:
Consistent with the First Amendment, the Nation’s answer is tolerance, not coercion. 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. Colorado cannot deny that promise consistent with the First Amendment.
“The U.S. Supreme Court rightly reaffirmed that the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe,” said Alliance Defending Freedom CEO Kristen Waggoner in a statement. “The court reiterated that it’s unconstitutional for the state to eliminate from the public square ideas it dislikes, including the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife.”
“Disagreement isn’t discrimination, and the government can’t mislabel speech as discrimination to censor it,” added Waggoner. “Lorie works with everyone, including clients who identify as LGBT. As the court highlighted, her decisions to create speech always turn on what message is requested, never on who requests it. The ruling makes clear that nondiscrimination laws remain firmly in place, and that the government has never needed to compel speech to ensure access to goods and services.”
Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, tweeted that the decision was a “BIG win for free speech.” (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Perry and Tom Jipping, also a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said in a statement that the court “got it right today in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, once again affirming that the First Amendment means what it says in protecting our freedom of speech.”
“The government cannot force Americans to abandon their constitutional rights in order to operate a business, but the Colorado Civil Rights Commission seems determined to suppress First Amendment rights in order to advance an ideological agenda,” added Perry and Jipping. “The Supreme Court has already rejected the commission’s hostility to religion and today does the same regarding freedom of speech.”
“I create unique, one of a kind artwork, and messaging for my clients,” Smith shared in an interview with The Daily Signal earlier this year. “I love what I do. I have clients who come from all different walks of life, I have clients who identify as LGBT.”
“I’ve always wanted to design and create, and I’ve always wanted to create and design for weddings,” Smith said. “But I can’t do that … because the state of Colorado is censoring my speech and forcing me to create custom and unique artwork, one of a kind designs that celebrate messages about marriage that go against what I believe.”
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
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