People of faith can breathe a little easier following two decisions issued by the United States Supreme Court in June. But not everyone is pleased with the outcome.
First, in a 9-0 decision, the court ruled in favor of Gerald Groff, a postal carrier and evangelical Christian who refuses to work on Sundays for religious reasons. For several years, the U.S. Postal Service granted him a religious accommodation not to work on Sundays, and he would work extra shifts to make up for it. But in 2016, his postmaster revoked the accommodation and began scheduling him on Sundays. After enduring months of disciplinary actions and hostile treatment, Groff resigned in 2019, choosing his faith over his job.
The Supreme Court’s ruling goes far beyond just granting Groff the right to observe a Sabbath day. It unanimously threw out a 46-year precedent and thus changed the standard for courts when considering religious freedom in the workplace.
“This win, this precedent, affects every person who works,” said Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO and chief counsel of First Liberty Institute, which represents Groff. “Woke companies have been crushing people of faith. They now can’t do that because there’s religious freedom protection. … This is a huge shift for religious freedom in the workplace, for our kids, our grandkids, for the future of the country.”
The decision sends Groff’s case back to the federal district court with instructions to apply the standard ordered by the Supreme Court. So, although it’s not a done deal yet, Groff can go back to the district court confident that he will prevail.
Firestorm and Falsehoods
The second case ignited a massive backlash from progressives. The court ruled in 303 Creative v. Elenis: “The First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees.”
Following the 6-3 decision, a number of deceptive and misleading reports by mainstream news outlets—including CNN, MSNBC, People Magazine and The Denver Post—characterized the decision as one that allows businesses, in at least some cases, to deny services to LGBTQ people, rather than what the decision actually said, which is simply that the government cannot compel a person to create speech that the person does not believe.
Those news outlets seemed to echo the court’s dissent, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Although the question before the court involved speech, the dissent claimed that the issue was Smith’s conduct, not speech, concluding: “Our Constitution contains no right to refuse service to a disfavored group.”
The majority decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, countered: “[The dissent] claims that, ‘for the first time in its history,’ the Court ‘grants a business open to the public’ a ‘right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.’ … Never mind that we do no such thing and Colorado itself has stipulated Ms. Smith will … ‘work with all people regardless of … sexual orientation.’”
Media outlets also spread a false claim that originated with an article in the left-wing magazine New Republic. The article referred to someone named Stewart whose first name and phone number appeared on an email Smith received expressing interest in a website for Stewart’s upcoming marriage to someone named Mike. The New Republic writer called Stewart’s number and was told that Stewart is married to a woman and knew nothing of the request.
News outlets latched onto the story, with at least one calling 303 Creative a “fake case.” But a request for a same-sex wedding was not legally necessary in order for Smith to file a suit. People have the right to challenge an unjust law when there is a credible threat that the law will be used against them. And electronic records confirm that Smith did receive the request.
Mainstream news organizations weren’t the only ones peddling misinformation. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser claimed at a press conference: “This was a made-up case without the benefit of any real facts or customers.”
But Smith does have customers, and the state of Colorado agreed that Smith would be subjected to punishment if she were to decline a request to design a same-sex wedding website. Her case was addressing a very real threat.
“The first thing that I would say to any American trying to make sense of what happened is: Read the decision for yourself,” said ADF’s CEO Kristen Waggoner, who argued the case at the Supreme Court. “The Court reaffirmed that we have the right to be able to speak and to think freely, and that it’s wrong for the government to tell us what to believe, even in this cultural moment.”
Both Smith and ADF have received horrific threats since the decision. Some have threatened to kill Smith and her family or to burn down their house. “It was deeply alarming to see a client caught in the middle of that,” Waggoner said. “She’s trusting in the Lord. She’s taking the threats seriously, and we are helping her navigate that.
“At the same time, she knows that she just stood up for the rights of those who are threatening her, too. She’s confident that the ruling will protect not just her but even those who have a different view. I think she’s rejoicing in that.” ©2023 BGEA
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom