SCOTUS Case: Christian Artist Forced to Create Designs That Violate Her Beliefs About Marriage

Stephanie Samsel | June 1, 2022 | 10:31am EDT
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(Getty Images)

(CNS News) – The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a brief with the Supreme Court last week in defense of a graphic artist who is being told by Colorado officials that she cannot refuse work that promotes same-sex marriage, a position that the artist, Lorie Smith, says violates her religious beliefs.

Lorie Smith, an artist and web designer in the Denver area, runs 303 Creative, an LLC that provides services in marketing, graphics, websites and events.   A self-described Christian, Smith states on her website, “ I am selective about the messages that I create or promote – while I will serve anyone I am always careful to avoid communicating ideas or messages, or promoting events, products, services, or organizations, that are inconsistent with my religious beliefs.”

Under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), however, public businesses cannot deny their services to someone “because of… sexual orientation.” It also prohibits businesses from sharing “communication” that hinders “full and equal enjoyment” of the goods provided.

Artist and web designer Lorie Smith, president of 303 Creative.  (ADF)
Artist and web designer Lorie Smith, president of 303 Creative. (ADF)

Due to CADA’s “Communication Clause,” Smith may not write a disclaimer on 303 Creative’s website detailing her religious beliefs about same-sex marriage.

Smith is legally challenging the CADA. The case is now before the Supreme Court because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled (2-1) against Smith in July 2021. 

The majority opinion at that time asserted, “We must also consider the grave harms caused when public accommodations discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation…a faith that enriches society in one way might also damage society in other ways, particularly when that faith would exclude others from unique goods or services.”

According to the ADF, the Colorado law is trying to force Smith to “violate her religious beliefs about marriage as the union of one man and one woman and censors what she wants to say on her own website.”

‘Free speech is for everyone,” said ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner in a press release. “The government can’t force Americans to say something they don’t believe.” 

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“The First Amendment protects the right of every American to express ideas without fear of government punishment, even if the government disagrees with those ideas,” said Waggoner.  “Yet Colorado continues to violate Smith’s constitutional rights by insisting she speak messages about marriage inconsistent with her beliefs.”

“We hope the Supreme Court will uphold free speech for all Americans, because without this freedom, America will cease to be a vibrant and free democracy that rejects government coercion and promotes human flourishing,” she added.

According to a report by the National Association of Attorneys General, Colorado calls CADA a “straightforward regulation of commercial conduct” that “satisfies constitutional requirements,” adding that “the message communicated by those products and services is attributable to the customer, not the business.”

ADF attorneys assert that CADA puts Smith’s freedom of speech “under assault” on the basis of messaging, not identity. “Smith maintains final editorial control over her expression so that each message is consistent with the beliefs that inspire and guide every aspect of her life,” said the legal group in its brief.

“Smith decides which commissions to accept based on what the message is, not who is requesting it,” reads the brief.  “She has designed graphics and created websites for religious and non-religious groups advocating for causes that align with her beliefs, no matter the client’s identity. The question is always what message will be expressed.”

Smith’s case is not the only one challenging Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission that has reached the Supreme Court. In fact, Smith’s juridical predecessor designed her wedding cake, according to Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, director of the Conscience Project, in an EWTN interview.

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips made headlines in 2018, six years after declining to design a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a same-sex couple. Like Smith, Phillips based his decision on his religious beliefs.

The couple alleged discrimination under CADA on the basis of sexual orientation. While the Office of Administrative Courts ruled in favor of Craig and Mullins, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling in a 7-2 decision.

The Court concluded that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's conduct did not use religious neutrality in evaluating Phillips’ reasons for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and “religious and philosophical objections to same-sex marriage are protected views and can also be protected forms of expression.”

According to the ADF brief filed on May 26, “Forcing artists like painters, photographers, writers, graphic designers, and musicians to speak messages that violate their deeply held beliefs fails to comport with the First Amendment’s promise of ‘individual dignity and choice….  As this Court unanimously held over 25 years ago, the government may not use public-accommodation laws to compel speakers to endorse certain messages and eschew others.”

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
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