Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on High Stakes Free Speech Case for Christian Web Designer
Written by KSCE Christian TV on December 5, 2022
A Christian website designer is challenging a Colorado anti-discrimination law that prevents her from serving couples based on faith. The Supreme Court hears arguments in the case Monday, a case that includes high stakes for religious liberty and free speech.
Lorie Smith says her religious beliefs don't allow her to create websites for same-sex weddings. Colorado calls that discrimination. Now, it's up to the Supreme Court to decide.
"I've always wanted to create custom artwork for weddings, ever since I was a little girl," Smith explained.
Smith left the corporate world to pursue her passion for creating designs for specific causes. Given her biblical beliefs, she hesitated to include weddings after seeing how the state penalized Jack Phillips for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
"I was cautious about continuing forward because I saw the way Colorado was treating other people of faith," Smith recalled.
Phillips defended his religious views at the high court, and won. The justices, however, ruled narrowly, saying hostile statements made by state officials toward him violated his free exercise of religion.
Smith's case centers on the larger free speech question, and the constitutionality of Colorado's anti-discriminiation law. The state maintains wedding vendors must serve all ceremonies. Smith argues that violates her free speech.
Religious freedom expert and Becket Law attorney Lori Windham says this case is very important because protecting religious and political speech is the driving force behind the First Amendment.
It's a really intrusive and dangerous thing to tell an artist, 'You have to create something. You have to speak,'" Windham explained.
Colorado's stance, however, is that equal access in the marketplace is what's at stake.
"Lorie Smith is fully free to choose what websites or services she provides to whom, as long as she does not make the choice to open a business to serve the public. Once she makes that choice, then and only then is she subject to Colorado's law, and has to serve everyone equally," said David Cole of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Alliance Defending Freedom's Kellie Fiedorek, a member of Smith's legal team, disputes that. "Colorado agrees that she serves everyone regardless of sexual orientation and she simply seeks to choose messages that are consistent with her beliefs," Fiedorek said.
Smith's counsel believes a win for Smith would be a victory for all beliefs and viewpoints. "This belongs to the LGBT graphic designer who doesn't want to be forced by the government to criticize same-sex marriage," Fiedorek added.
After six years of pursuing this case, Smith has endured severe backlash – including lost business – and even death threats.
Windham said, "I think a win from the Supreme Court here sends a really strong message that even if someone's religious beliefs are unpopular, that doesn't mean you get to silence them."
In an era when hostility against people of faith is more common, this case could set clear markers regarding what is and what is not allowed in the marketplace.