The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 July 26 that the state of Colorado can force Christian web designer Lorie Smith to create websites for same-sex weddings despite it conflicting with her religious beliefs.
In 2016, Smith, owner of 303 Creative, filed a pre-enforcement legal challenge to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which allowed her to challenge the law before the government enforced it against her. Smith argued that the law compels her to provide services that go against her Biblical beliefs and is therefore unconstitutional. The law also prohibits her from stating her beliefs about marriage on her business website.
In September 2017, a district court ruled that Smith couldn’t challenge the accommodation clause of the law, meaning, if she were to offer services for traditional weddings, she must offer those same services for same-sex weddings. But the court held off on ruling about the law’s communication clause—or what Smith could share on her website about her religious beliefs—until after Jack Phillips’ case was decided on by the Supreme Court.
A subsequent ruling upheld the court’s decision, saying that it “assumes the constitutionality” of the Colorado law.
In the July 26 ruling, Circuit Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, who wrote for the majority, said that “Colorado may prohibit speech that promotes unlawful activity, including unlawful discrimination,” and that the law “permissibly compels [Smith’s] speech.”
“A faith that enriches society in one way might also damage society in [an]other,” Briscoe continued.
In a lengthy dissent, 10th Circuit Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich disagreed with his colleagues, writing, “The Constitution neither forces Ms. Smith to compromise her beliefs nor condones the government doing so. In fact, this case illustrates exactly why we have a First Amendment. Properly applied, the Constitution protects Ms. Smith from the government telling her what to say or do.”
John Bursch, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy, said that there are already plans to appeal the 10th Circuit’s decision.
“The government should never force creative professionals to promote a message or cause with which they disagree,” he said. “That is quintessential free speech and artistic freedom.
“Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips has been harassed for years; Washington floral artist Barronelle Stutzman stands to lose nearly everything she owns; and now Lorie Smith is being told that she must speak views she opposes and can’t post about her beliefs on her own business website,” Bursch continued. “How many more creative professionals will have to suffer before they receive recognition of their constitutionally protected freedoms—the rights they have always had in this country?
“Lorie is happy to design websites for all people; she simply objects to being forced to pour her heart, imagination, and talents into messages that violate her conscience.”
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom