Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Today, in 303 CREATIVE LLC ET AL. v. ELENIS ET AL., the United Supreme Court ruled in favor of the free speech rights of Christian website designer, Lorie Smith, who refused to create a custom designed website to celebrate a gay wedding. According to stipulations by the parties in the case, homosexual marriage violated Smith’s sincerely held religious beliefs and, therefore, she could not create a website celebrating the event without violating her own conscience. The state of Colorado’s so-called “public accommodation” law bans all businesses from refusing services based on “sexual orientation,” and makes no exception for those who object to certain activity as a violation of conscience. The State of Colorado maintained that it could punish Smith for refusing to create the website because her conscience objection did not create a “meaningful” freedom of speech issue. 

In a 6 to 3 vote, the Court rejected Colorado’s position and found that its “public accommodation” law violated the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution because it wrongfully compelled Smith to communicate a message with which she disagreed. 

The Court stated, “The framers designed the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to protect the freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think…[T]he First Amendment protects an individual’s right to speak his mind regardless of whether the government considers his speech sensible and well intentioned.” (internal quotations and citations omitted)

The Court found that, even though Smith’s website design business was a commercial enterprise, her work in creating custom websites was unquestionably speech protected by the First Amendment. The Court also found that the State of Colorado’s main objective was to eliminate speech that it disapproved.  “As surely as Ms. Smith seeks to engage in protected First Amendment speech, Colorado seeks to compel speech Ms. Smith does not wish to provide…Colorado seeks to compel this speech in order to excis[e] certain ideas or viewpoints from the public dialogue. …[T]he coercive [e]liminati[on] of dissenting ideas about marriage constitutes Colorado’s very purpose in seeking to apply its law to Ms. Smith.” 

The Court’s clear rebuke raises hopes that the free speech rights of other Christian artists and business owners who have been prosecuted under similar laws will be vindicated. For example, Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, has also been targeted by the State of Colorado under the same law. Phillips has refused to custom design cakes for homosexual weddings and “gender transition” based on his conviction that homosexual marriage is prohibited by the Bible and that sex is assigned by God at birth. 

The Court observed that many states have public accommodation laws similar to Colorado’s. It found that such anti-discrimination laws, while noble and permissible for other purposes, could not be used to compel speech or silence speech the government deems to be offensive. 

While 303 Creative did not mention the Phillips case, the Court explained that expression by all artists is protected by the First Amendment, regardless of the particular medium being used: “All manner of speech—from pictures, films, paintings, drawings, and engravings, to oral utterance and the printed word—qualify for the First Amendment’s protections; no less can hold true when it comes to speech like Ms. Smith’s conveyed over the Internet.” 

Richard Harris, executive director of the Truth and Liberty Coalition responded to the ruling: “The Court’s ruling in 303 Creative is a huge victory for freedom and for truth.  We are incredibly thankful that our highest court stood firm against woke tyranny today and faithfully defended the constitutional, unalienable rights of all Americans to live according to their deeply held religious convictions.  Artists of all kinds, including Christians, can now rest a little easier, knowing that the government cannot punish them just because they choose to express (or choose not to express) themselves in a way that disagrees with radical LGBTQ ideology.” 

Learn More

Explore our website and visit our Research Center for practical resources to defend your First Amendment rights. Also learn how you can become a member and join us in standing for truth in the public square.