Supreme Court Hears Arguments on High Stakes Free Speech Case for Christian Web Designer
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A Christian website designer was at the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, challenging a Colorado anti-discrimination law that would penalize her for refusing to create designs for same-sex weddings.
If Lorie Smith wins her case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, religious freedom experts say it will shore up protections for people of faith that have been challenged as recently as last week when the Senate approved an LGBT marriage act. Many faith-based groups believe that measure will erode First Amendment safeguards for those with biblical views on sexuality.
Smith owns 303 Creative, a Denver-area company that designs websites.
"I've always wanted to create custom artwork for weddings, ever since I was a little girl," she told CBN News.
Smith left the corporate world to create her own business and pursue her passion for creating designs for specific causes. Given her traditional beliefs, she hesitated to include weddings in the services she offered after seeing how the state penalized baker Jack Phillips for refusing to create a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding ceremony.
In 2018, Phillips defended his religious views at the high court and won. The justices, however, ruled narrowly, saying hostile statements made by state officials towards Phillips violated his free exercise of religion.
Smith's case centers on the larger free speech question and the constitutionality of Colorado's anti-discrimination law. The state maintains wedding vendors must serve all ceremonies. Smith argues that violates her First Amendment rights.
Religious freedom expert and Becket Law attorney Lori Windham says the ability to hold religious and political views is at the core of Constitutional protections.
"This is an artist who wants to offer her services, and so it's a really intrusive and dangerous thing to tell an artist 'you have to create something. You have to speak. You have to use your expression to celebrate something you don't believe and we as the government can come in and make you do that,'" said Windham.
Colorado's stance, however, is that the case is about equal access in the marketplace.
David Cole, national legal director for the ACLU, which submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Colorado, says the law simply requires businesses to serve everyone regardless of protected characteristics and does not limit speech.
"Lorie Smith is fully free to choose what websites or services she provides to whom as long as she does not make the choice to open a business to serving the public," he said. "Once she makes that choice to take the benefits of serving the public, the economic benefits of serving the public, then and only then is she subject to Colorado's law and has to serve everybody equally."
Smith's legal team disputes that framing.
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kellie Fiedorek told CBN News, "Colorado agrees that she serves everyone regardless of sexual orientation and she simply seeks to choose messages that are consistent with her beliefs."
Fiedorek says a win for Smith is a win for people of all beliefs who want free speech protection. "This belongs to the LGBT graphic designer who doesn't want to be forced by the government to criticize same-sex marriage, for example," she said. "All of us have beliefs and values that guide and inspire our lives."
After six years of pursuing her case, Smith has endured severe backlash, including lost business and even death threats.
What keeps her going, she told CBN News, is her faith and the support of many, including those with different views on marriage.
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