The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case relating to free speech in art. The case involves a Denver-based web designer who has challenged a state law that forbids her from openly stating on her website that she can only create wedding pages for heterosexual couples due to her religious convictions
Once again, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act is at issue. This time, it’s not a Colorado baker, who was involved in a famous case a few years ago, but rather a web designer.
In the 2018 baker case, a baker named Jack Phillips told a same-sex couple that he wouldn’t make a wedding cake for them because his religious convictions don’t allow him to support same sex marriage. He did say he would sell them other goods instead, however.
Colorado law holds that businesses can’t discriminate against any customer based on a variety of factors, including sexual orientation. They also can’t announce they’re going to do that.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled on the side of the baker, essentially agreeing that Phillips received hostile treatment from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because of his religious views, and that the commission had violated the Free Exercise Clause. The high court did not, however, actually rule on freedom of speech in that case, which is the issue they’re taking up with this new one.
The specific question the Justices will weigh in on in this new case is “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”
The designer at the center of the case is Lorie Smith. She owns a web company called 303 Creative. Smith says she is willing to serve all customers regardless of their sexual orientation. The company is planning to restrict wedding-related work to exclusively heterosexual marriages, however.
According to the petition to the Supreme Court, her proposed statement reads: “These same religious convictions that motivate me also prevent me from creating websites promoting and celebrating ideas or messages that violate my beliefs. So I will not be able to create websites for same-sex marriages or any other marriage that is not between one man and one woman. Doing that would compromise my Christian witness and tell a story about marriage that contradicts God’s true story of marriage – the very story He is calling me to promote.”
Smith hasn’t put that message up yet, and 303 Creative hasn’t even started offering wedding websites, because Smith knows it would be breaking the law. Instead, she is pre-emptively challenging the law.
In August, Smith said, “And while I’m happy to work with all people, there are certain messages I am unable to promote through my business which is why I am challenging this law.”
Jake Warner, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, the firm representing Smith, added, “what’s at stake in Lorie’s case is this: does the government have the power to force a creative professional to express a message that goes against their deepest convictions?”
The high court will likely hear the case next term, which starts in October. The fact that they chose to take up the issue again — and the question they’re considering with regard to freedom of speech — could mean they want to make a more declarative ruling on these issues.