Christian Website Designer Wins Supreme Court Case

Christian Website Designer Wins Supreme Court Case

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that a Christian graphic designer cannot be forced to create custom websites for same-sex weddings under Colorado’s anti-discrimination law that prohibited businesses from denying service based on a customer’s sexual orientation.

In a 6-3 decision, the high court ruled that Lorie Smith’s constitutional right to free speech would be violated if she were compelled to design customized websites for same-sex weddings as the owner of 303 Creative.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett ruled that the government could not compel speech. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Gorsuch authored the majority opinion, which said that, “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.” 

“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,” Gorsuch continued. “… 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. Because Colorado seeks to deny that promise, the judgment is reversed,” he concluded.

Kristen Waggoner, Alliance Defending Freedom’s CEO, president and general counsel, lauded the ruling for her client.

“The U.S. Supreme Court rightly reaffirmed that the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe,” Waggoner stated in a press release. “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.

“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. This is a win for all Americans. The government should no more censor Lorie for speaking consistent with her beliefs about marriage than it should punish an LGBT graphic designer for declining to criticize same-sex marriage. If we desire freedom for ourselves, we must defend it for others.”

The landmark decision in the case, 303 Creative LLC. v. Elenis, has drawn national scrutiny for pitting free speech rights verses anti-discrimination laws.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court deemed the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which prohibits businesses providing sales or services to the public from denying services to someone based on their identity, as unconstitutional.

This is the second time CADA has been at the center of a Supreme Court case. In 2018, bakery Masterpiece Cakeshop, also represented by ADF, won a case where owner Jack Phillips refused to design and create cakes specifically for gay weddings.

But that case did not rule on whether the law itself violated the First Amendment for free speech or religious reasons, as they held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had anti-religious bias in enforcing the law against Phillips.

In January, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against Phillips, upholding a state district court’s verdict that Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to create a cake celebrating a gender transition back in 2017.

ADF is currently appealing the ruling in Phillips’ case on similar grounds that it has now argued successfully in Smith’s case.

Photo: Lorie Smith / Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

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