Washington- When the Supreme Court meets for oral arguments on Monday, it will face an issue it has been asked to resolve before in court fights involving bakers, a florist and now, a web designer.
And with the latest case before it, brought by graphic designer Lorie Smith, Colorado is once again the battleground in a dispute pitting First Amendment right to free speech against LGBTQ rights.
Smith, like bakers Jack Phillips andY Before her, she is a Christian business owner who says her religious beliefs prevent her from creating custom websites for a same-sex wedding. But her refusal could violate Colorado’s public accommodations law, which prohibits businesses open to the public from refusing service because of her sexual orientation and announcing their intention to do so.
Smith argues that the law violates her First Amendment rights and says the state requires her to express a message she disagrees with.
“If the government can censor and compel my speech, they can censor and compel anyone’s speech,” he told CBS News. “We should all be free to live and work consistently with our deeply held beliefs.”
The Supreme Court last faced a case that straddled the crossroads of the First Amendment and LGBTQ rights in 2018, in a dispute involving Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. sex a decade ago. The baker, who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, argued that the state’s public accommodations law requiring him to create a cake for a same-sex wedding would violate his rights to free speech and religious liberty.
the supreme courtfor Phillips, finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted in hostility toward his sincerely held religious beliefs. But she left unanswered the question of whether states like Colorado can, by applying their anti-discrimination laws, force an artist to express a message he disagrees with.
Smith’s case, known as 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, now could be the vehicle to address that problem.
“No one should be forced to create works of art, custom expressions, that go against who they are and what they believe. And that’s what Colorado is doing,” he said.
Smith started his web design business, 303 Creative, about a decade ago and insists that every website he creates is one of a kind. With plans to expand his business to create custom wedding websites, Smith doesn’t want to design gay wedding websites, as same-sex marriage violates his religious beliefs, and wants to post a message on the 303 Creative website revealing that he will not. do it
Smith says he caters to customers from all backgrounds and insists that he makes distinctions based on the message requested, not the person requesting it. If, for example, a wedding planner asks Smith to create a website for a same-sex wedding, he’ll still object to the request.
“The unfortunate thing is that what I am asking the court to protect is everyone’s right to speak freely,” Smith said. “This not only protects me, it protects the LGBT web designer who should not be forced to communicate messages that go against his deepest beliefs, and the right to speak freely is guaranteed to all of us.”
Smith filed a lawsuit in 2016 to block enforcement of the state’s public accommodations law against him. A federal district court sided with Colorado and a split panel from the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. affirmedconcluding that the law is strictly tailored to Colorado’s compelling interest in ensuring equal access to publicly available goods and services.
Chief Justice Timothy Tymkovich, who dissented, said Smith’s speech was compelled and suppressed by state law and violated his right to the free exercise of religion.
“While I hate to reference Orwell, majority opinion supports substantial government interference in matters of speech, religion and conscience,” he wrote.
Smith appealed to the Supreme Court in September 2021, asking justices to decide whether using an anti-discrimination law like Colorado’s to force an artist to speak, contrary to their religious beliefs, violates free speech clauses. or free exercise of the First Amendment.
The high court agreed in February to hear Smith’s case, but limited the question to the issue of free speech.
Kristen Wagoner, who heads Alliance Defending Freedom and will argue the case before the Supreme Court on Smith’s behalf, said narrowing the question allows the Supreme Court to “more easily get to the heart of the matter” about whether the government can force people to say things you don’t believe in.
“No one should be forced to say anything that violates their convictions on any subject,” he told CBS News. “Speakers don’t lose their rights just because they’re trying to make a living.”
Wagoner, who also argued Phillips’ case five years ago, noted that public accommodations laws and the First Amendment have “coexisted for many years,” with the rights of speakers protected.
Twenty Republican-leaning states signed a letter of friend of the court supporting Smith, telling the court that his interpretation of public accommodation laws demonstrates how to strike a balance between protecting artists’ speech by allowing message-based objections and preventing discrimination in the marketplace.
“Never in our history has the government really forced an ideological, political or religious discourse, never,” Wagoner said. “This would be the first time.”
But Colorado officials who defend the law argue that it is necessary to ensure that customers can participate fairly in the marketplace. Taking Smith’s position, Attorney General Phil Weiser told the court in a presentation“would encompass not only objections by a business to serving certain customers motivated by sincere religious beliefs, but also objections motivated by ignorance, caprice, bigotry, capriciousness, and more, including pure expressions of racial, sexist, or hate speech.” anti-religious.”
The state also argues that allowing a business to refuse service would break the nation’s long tradition of protecting customers’ ability to purchase goods and services regardless of religion, race, disability and other protected characteristics.
The Biden administration is backing Colorado in the dispute, telling the Supreme Court that the First Amendment does not entitle Smith to a categorical exemption from a law that protects against discrimination.
“Public accommodation laws, therefore, sometimes incidentally require expressive business owners to act in ways inconsistent with their deeply held beliefs,” the Justice Department said in a statement. presentation to court “But under this Court’s precedent, those incidental charges are an allowable, indeed, incontrovertible, result of a decision to offer expressive goods or services to the public.”
Both Smith and Colorado caution that a decision in favor of their respective opponents could be damaging and the consequences far-reaching.
For Smith and the groups backing her in the dispute, a ruling in Colorado’s favor would force any artist or speaker to express messages they disagree with, they say.
“A lots of [of these laws] they have political ideology, political beliefs, as a protected class, which means a Democrat would have to write a slogan for a Republican, or a Muslim might have to write something for an evangelical church,” Wagoner said. “It really cuts across the marriage issue, and we’re hopeful the court will reaffirm a very basic principle that free speech is for everyone.”
Colorado, he said, is taking the position that “they have the power to force an artist to create a custom expression, and that should deeply concern all Americans, that a government can punish those it disagrees with because they don’t agrees with their point of view on an issue.
But Weiser and the states that support Colorado warn that a decision in Smith’s favor would open the door to further discrimination.
“Every day, Coloradans buy the goods and services they need from businesses that open their doors to the public. Many of these goods and services have deep meaning to their buyers: flowers for a spouse’s funeral, family photos for celebrate the arrival of a baby, a tailored suit to start a new job,” he told the court. “These customers don’t look, love, or adore each other the same way. But all expect to participate in the public market as equals. their joy and improve their lives.
Twenty-one Democratic-leaning states and the District of Columbia said in their own presentation to the Supreme Court that siding with Smith could lead to members of protected groups being exposed to discrimination in a “broad swath” of the market.
They wrote: “Examples abound of businesses that might refuse to serve customers based solely on the businesses’ objection to some ‘message’ that, in essence, depends only on the identities of those customers: a bakery whose owner opposed mixing – race relations could refuse to bake wedding cakes for interracial couples, a real estate agency whose owner opposed racial integration could refuse to represent black couples looking to buy a home in a predominantly white neighborhood; or a portrait studio whose owner opposes interracial adoption might refuse to take pictures of white parents with their adopted black children.”
A Supreme Court decision is expected by the end of June.