The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Friday that the state of Colorado cannot compel a Christian website designer to create messages that violate her faith.
In 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented Lorie Smith in challenging a so-called “anti-discrimination” law in Colorado that would force her to create websites celebrating marriages “that defy her belief that marriage should be reserved to unions between one man and one woman.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Chief Justices John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, wrote for the majority, saying:
The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands.
CatholicVote President Brian Burch celebrated the decision, saying,
Perhaps we will finally see an end to government persecution of Christian florists, bakers, and photographers. This is why elections matter. That’s why it’s critical to get good people elected to the Senate, the White House – to continue to get justices like Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch confirmed.
Gorsuch wrote that in Smith’s case, Colorado “does not just seek to ensure the sale of goods or services on equal terms. It seeks to use its law to compel an individual to create speech she does not believe.”
The purpose of Colorado’s “anti-discrimination” law,” he said, “is not the protection of its citizens, but rather “the coercive ‘elimination’ of dissenting ‘ideas’.”
“Of course,” he noted, “abiding the Constitution’s commitment to the freedom of speech means all of us will encounter ideas we consider ‘unattractive,’ ‘misguided, or even hurtful. But tolerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer.”
ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner spoke on the case in December 2021, saying, “Free speech is for everyone. The government can’t force anyone to say something they don’t believe.”
Following Friday’s decision, Waggoner said in a statement: “The U.S. Supreme Court rightly reaffirmed that the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe.”
Lorie [Smith] works with everyone, including clients who identify as LGBT. As the court highlighted, her decisions to create speech always turn on what message is requested, never on who requests it. The ruling makes clear that nondiscrimination laws remain firmly in place, and that the government has never needed to compel speech to ensure access to goods and services.
In considering the dissent, Gorsuch reflected: “It is difficult to read the dissent and conclude we are looking at the same case.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, he wrote, failed to answer the central question: “Can a State force someone who provides her own expressive services to abandon her conscience and speak its preferred message instead?”
Gorsuch also noted that the dissent offered contradictory statements that made it difficult to engage with in debate:
In some places, the dissent gets so turned around about the facts that it opens fire on its own position. For instance: While stressing that a Colorado company cannot refuse “the full and equal enjoyment of [its] services” based on a customer’s protected status, the dissent assures us that a company selling creative services “to the public” does have a right “to decide what messages to include or not to include.”
“But if that is true,” he concludes, “what are we even debating?”