The Supreme Court has announced it will hear oral arguments on Dec. 5 for Lorie Smith, a Colorado web designer and a devout Christian who has challenged the state’s anti-discrimination law, which she contends would force her to create content contrary to her religious beliefs.
The high court announced in February it would hear 303 Creative LLC et al v. Aubrey Elenis, et al., but no date had been set in the case. A ruling could potentially clarify whether or not the government may compel speech if it is deemed to violate anti-discrimination laws.
Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty law firm representing Smith, said on Twitter: “Lorie Smith’s upcoming #SCOTUS case illustrates exactly why we have a First Amendment: To prevent officials from eliminating ideas from the public square. To stop them from silencing people who disagree with the government. #CreateFreely”
In 2016, Smith filed a pre-enforcement legal challenge to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which allowed her to challenge the law before it could be enforced it against her.
LGBTQ activists have continued to threaten Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop using the same law. Phillips won a partial victory at the Supreme Court in 2018, though the Colorado law was left intact and the state continues to defend it.
Smith says because the law compels her to provide services, such as websites for gay weddings, that go against her Biblical beliefs, it is unconstitutional. The law also prohibits her from publishing her beliefs about marriage on her business website.
In July 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, stating that it “permissibly compels [Lorie Smith’s] speech.” ADF CEO and President Kristen Waggoner called that decision “shocking.”
“The government doesn’t have the power to silence or compel creative expression under the threat of punishment,” she said at the time. “ … Colorado has weaponized its law to silence speech it disagrees with, to compel speech it approves of, and to punish anyone who dares to dissent.”
The high court agreed to take up Smith’s claim under the free speech clause of the First Amendment but declined to review two other questions that Smith raised in her petition for review: whether requiring Smith to create custom websites for same-sex couples violates the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, and whether the Supreme Court should overrule its 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which held that government actions usually do not violate the free exercise clause as long as they are neutral and apply to everyone.
In another tweet, ADF said: “We’re asking the Court to send a clear message to state & local governments: the #1A guarantee of #freespeech isn’t just for people who share their views. It’s for everyone.”
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom