Sunday, December 3, 2023

Free Speech, Religious Liberty Score Double Win from SCOTUS in LGBT Wedding Website Case

'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... '

(Robert Jonathan, Headline USA) In a victory for freedom of speech if not for religious liberty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the state of Colorado can’t force a Christian graphic artist to design same-sex marriage websites.

303 Creative LLC owner Lorie Smith reportedly instituted the case that ultimately reached the high court out of concern that the public accommodation provision of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act could compel her to violate her religious beliefs.

Smith is on record as willing to provide services to any customer regardless of their sexual orientation, but drew the line at marriage-website creation for other than nuptials between one man and one woman.

In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch that reversed a lower court ruling, the conservative majority vindicated Smith’s free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“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,” Gorsuch wrote in the 70-page opinion that also includes a dissent by the liberal justice cohort.

The state of Colorado improperly “seeks to deny that promise,” he added in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

“In this case, Colorado seeks to force an individual to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience about a matter of major significance…,” Gorsuch explained.

“But, as this Court has long held, the opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong.”

During the pendency of the case, Smith told Fox News that she was doxxed, faced death threats, and was subject to various forms of harassment.

“The right to speak freely is guaranteed to all of us, and that’s been hard at times,” Smith said. “While it has come at a cost, it’s a right worth protecting.”

The nonprofit legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom represented Smith in the appeal.

In a statement, Alliance Defending Freedom CEO Kristen Waggoner said, in part, that “The U.S. Supreme Court rightly reaffirmed that the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe. The court reiterated that it’s unconstitutional for the state to eliminate from the public square ideas it dislikes, including the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife.”

Waggoner, who is also the group’s president and general counsel, noted that Colorado’s nondiscrimination laws “remain firmly in place,” but that wasn’t what the legal dispute was really about.

“Disagreement isn’t discrimination, and the government can’t mislabel speech as discrimination to censor it. Lorie 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.”

As a practical matter in controversies of this nature, consumers usually have many choices in terms of which graphic designer, florist, or bakery (such as Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop) with which they can voluntarily choose or not choose to do business.

Reacting to the 303 Creative LLC case, NBS News asserted that “The ruling could allow other similar business owners to evade punishment under laws in 29 states that protect LGBTQ rights in public accommodations in some form.”

Earlier the week in what has turned out to be an impactful term, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a postal officer worker who had been targeted and reprimanded for requesting to refrain from working on Sundays due to his religious beliefs.

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