We Need To Talk About Bruno. . . And Free Speech


Like many parents of young children, I’ve watched the newest Disney film, Encanto. Setting aside  concerns about Disney at the corporate level, this movie is magical, entertaining…and filled with binge-worthy music. Its catchy soundtrack hit, “We Don’t Talk about Bruno,” stormed to #1 on both U.S. and global charts — drawing nearly 70 million streams in one week. 

For the uninitiated, Encanto follows a magical family (the Madrigals) who live in a magical house called Encanto. This house has magic that is passed to each Madrigal child except one — Mirabel. Her lack of magic signals to the Madrigals that their home is in danger. And Mirabel’s search for the problem leads her to her Uncle Bruno — who was rejected by the family because of his willingness to foretell the truth even when it was hard. While the family thought Bruno had run away, Mirabel finds him living inside their house walls. He’s even holding the family home together.

Bruno, believe it or not, reminds me of the First Amendment. No, I doubt that anyone at Disney was thinking of the First Amendment when they made the movie. And, no, the Constitution is not alive, nor does it furnish prophesies. But despite what some critics say, its protection serves a valuable purpose. It holds our family (our nation) together. That’s why, when the U.S. Supreme Court hears a critical free speech case later this fall — 303 Creative v. Elenis — we should all tune in.

The character in this story is real-life web designer, Lorie Smith, who runs her own studio, 303 Creative. She pours her heart and soul into it daily. And like most artists, Lorie serves everyone; she just cannot express every message through her custom art.

About six years ago, Lorie wanted to expand her business into the wedding industry. But because Lorie is a Christian, she wants to only create sites that celebrate God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman.

But Lorie lives in Colorado, which has been on a 10-year crusade to crush those with Lorie’s views. Her case is essentially the sequel to the story of Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop. In 2012, Phillips declined to create a custom cake celebrating a same-sex wedding. Colorado prosecuted him for this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately sided with Phillips, condemning the state’s hostility against him and his faith. While Colorado had allowed secular cake artists to decline cakes expressing messages that contradicted their beliefs about marriage, the state denied this freedom to Phillips. And officials even disparaged his faith along the way, violating the First Amendment.

But Colorado did not learn its lesson. Soon after Phillips won, the state prosecuted him again. On the day the Supreme Court decided to hear Phillips’s first case, an activist attorney called his shop, requesting a custom cake celebrating a gender transition. The attorney would call back later to request another cake depicting Satan smoking marijuana. And after this attorney filed a charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, the state prosecuted Phillips again.

Phillips fought back. After his attorneys uncovered new evidence of the state’s ongoing hostility toward his faith, Colorado abandoned the suit. Yet Phillips is still facing harassment from a new lawsuit filed by the activist attorney over the same cake request.

These are blatant attacks on a key stitch holding our nation together — free speech. How often does someone win against the government at the Supreme Court, and the same officials keep going after him? 

So Lorie has every reason to fear Colorado officials and their law. And she has yet to enter the wedding industry accordingly. Most people can understand this. But some critics believe Lorie should face punishment before knowing her rights. In America, though, people like Lorie should not have to pay fines or sit in jail to get answers. If this were so, few would be bold enough to correct injustice. And civil rights groups like the ACLU, NAACP, and ADF would lose a key tool in their litigation belt. Tossing it aside would undermine justice for all Americans.

Other detractors have argued that the First Amendment should not protect people who create speech for a living. But the Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected this argument. And while these critics say Lorie should be forced to create websites celebrating a view of marriage that contradicts her beliefs because this would protect people who identify as LGBTQ, that couldn’t be more wrong. A win for Lorie would not only protect Lorie, it would protect everyone’s right to free speech.

If Lorie wins, the government could not force web designers who identify as LGBTQ to create a church website criticizing same-sex marriage just because they would create one promoting the opposite view. Likewise, it couldn’t force a Democratic speechwriter to write for former President Donald Trump just because she does so for candidates who share a different vision. But if Lorie loses, all bets are off. In this way, Lorie’s case will have winners and losers. But all Americans share the same fate: either their speech will remain free, or it won’t.

This fall, the Supreme Court likely won’t talk about Bruno. (Except Justice Amy Coney Barrett perhaps.) But the Court will talk about the First Amendment. Let’s hope it will keep one of our nation’s key supports treasured and strong — upholding the right of every American to speak or stay silent without fear of government punishment. That’s some magic worth protecting.

Jake Warner is senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Lorie Smith and 303 Creative. Follow ADF @ADFLegal.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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