When she began her new walk as a Christian, Lorie Smith always prayed for boldness and the courage to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She had no idea that her dedication to Him could take her all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Smith is the owner of 303 Creative, a Colorado-based web design company established in 2012. A couple of years after starting her business, Smith wanted to focus more on creating websites celebrating God’s design for marriage between a man and a woman—but a Colorado law threatens her ability to do so while staying true to her faith. She saw the state’s aggressive campaign against baker Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop and worried that could happen to her.
Phillips, a devout Christian, became the target of a concentrated legal and media campaign after he declined to design a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage. The case—Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018)—ended up at the Supreme Court.
Watching Phillips’ case unfold, Smith became concerned about the threat to her own religious views and freedom of expression.
“I spoke with my pastor and really wondered if the state had grounds to do something similar with my business,” she told Decision.
“That’s when I reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and asked them what could possibly happen to me, and I learned that the state of Colorado could punish me for my beliefs.”
Smith was concerned that the state would seek to compel her, through its public accommodation law, to use her artistic abilities to promote messages that went against her Christian faith and the Bible’s teaching that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman.
As a measure of transparency with her customers, Smith wanted to include a statement on her website sharing her religious convictions and unwillingness to “create websites for same-sex marriages or any other marriage that is not between one man and one woman.” Smith knew that could put her in legal hot water with the state, so in 2016 she filed a preemptive lawsuit with the help of ADF to protect her free speech.
“I wanted to start my own business because I wanted to freely choose to promote messages that I really cared about,” Smith said. “I work with clients like nonprofits and small business owners, and I design one-of-a-kind artwork and websites. I really love what I do.”
But Colorado, like a few other states, has been willing to place the demands of LGBTQ activists above the religious freedom and free speech rights of business owners like Smith. Using public accommodation laws, LGBTQ activists have pushed states to increasingly target Christians like Smith, Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman, a florist who lives in Washington state. Christian business owners unwilling to compromise their beliefs have lost income and faced aggressive litigation and social ostracism.
In Smith’s case, those laws would not only compel her to create messages against her conscience, they would prohibit her from explaining her beliefs on her website, despite constitutional free speech guarantees.
“What we’ve seen over the past few years is that government officials and activists are increasingly weaponizing these laws to punish people that they disagree with,” said Jake Warner, who serves as legal counsel for ADF’s appellate team. “The government is using these laws to compel these creative professionals to express messages that go against their deepest beliefs, and we believe that’s wrong.”
To that end, ADF has defended a variety of Christian-owned businesses that seek to serve everyone yet protect themselves from being forced to produce messages they believe go against their faith. For Smith, the ordeal hasn’t been easy.
“The last five years have been quite a roller coaster of emotion,” she said. “What’s at stake is real. The threat to my freedom is real. I remain censored until the court weighs in on this issue.
“What’s difficult about this is that I have served and continue to serve all people, including those who identify as LGBT. I’m just seeking the right as an artist to choose which messages I promote. That’s something that impacts the freedom of not just me, but every American.
“My hope and prayer is that the United States Supreme Court will accept my case because I’m currently censored under the law.”
ADF has requested that the Supreme Court review the case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, and a decision on whether it will do so is expected early this year.
The case was argued in July at the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the three-judge panel ruled in favor of the state in a 2-1 split. Bafflingly, the majority’s reasoning for siding with Colorado is that “LGBT consumers will never be able to obtain wedding-related services of the same quality and nature as those that Appellants offer. Thus, there are no less intrusive means of providing equal access to those types of services.”
Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, who wrote the majority opinion, essentially concluded that Smith is so incredibly gifted that no other business could ever possibly compete, so she must serve all patrons regardless of what they’re asking her to create.
Writing for the National Review’s website, legal analyst Ed Whelan characterized the decision as “bonkers.”
Smith may be flattered by the judge’s assessment of her skills, but that doesn’t change her belief that her artistic abilities should be used to help others and further God’s Kingdom, not to promote ideas or events that violate her religious convictions.
“When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, my prayer was always that I would just have a boldness, because Acts 4:31 says that they ‘began to speak the Word of God with boldness,’” she said. “Throughout my life, my prayer has been to be bold and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ openly and fearlessly with others.
“My business has allowed me to meet people who I may not otherwise have come into contact with. It’s allowed me to pray with clients, many of whom are not believers. To share the Gospel.”
Smith hopes that her case will help inspire others to “speak boldly and stand for what’s right.”
The Scripture quotation is taken from The New American Standard Bible.
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom