Supreme Court to hear dispute between Evangelical Christian and LGBT rights

US Supreme Court agrees to hear case of Christian artist ordered under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act to create a wedding website for an LGBT couple.

 Lorie Smith (photo credit: Alliance Defending Freedom)
Lorie Smith
(photo credit: Alliance Defending Freedom)

The US Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear the case of a Colorado evangelical Christian web designer's free speech claim that she cannot be forced under a Colorado anti-discrimination law to produce websites for same-sex marriages.

The justices agreed to hear Denver-area business owner Lorie Smith's appeal of a lower court's ruling rejecting her bid for an exemption from a Colorado law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and certain other factors. The case follows the Supreme Court's 2018 ruling in favor of a Christian Denver-area baker who refused on religious grounds to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who is serving as Smith's attorney, said that the government should not "have the power to silence or compel creative expression under the threat of punishment.” 

ADF had asked the Supreme Court to review a 2–1 decision by a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit that ruled in favor of Colorado’s coercive law. 

All of the court documents are linked on ADF's website.

“It’s shocking that the 10th Circuit would permit Colorado to punish artists whose speech isn’t in line with state-approved ideology,” said Waggoner. “Colorado has weaponized its law to silence speech it disagrees with, to compel speech it approves of, and to punish anyone who dares to dissent. Colorado’s law—and others like it—are a clear and present danger to every American’s constitutionally protected freedoms and the very existence of a diverse and free nation.”

Specifically, ADF explained that the court’s ruling is based on Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which “requires her to engage in speech that violates her conscience and in turn creates a ‘substantial risk’ of removing “certain ideas or viewpoints from the public dialogue. Further, the law allows secular artists but not religious ones like Smith to make ‘message-based refusals.’” 

Smith launched her website business about 10 years ago. Among the sites she designs are wedding websites.

“In today’s culture, that immediately raises the question of promoting not only unions between a man and a woman, but same-sex ceremonies, too,” Smith said in a press conference this week. Videos of the press conference were shared with the media.

“My religious beliefs won’t allow me to promote that second option. I can’t create a site that would celebrate views contrary to my beliefs," she said.

Smith said that she has clients from across the spectrum both in terms of the fields in which they work and their religious and moral beliefs, including clients who themselves are members of the LGBT community.

“But like all artists, there are some messages that I can’t pour my heart, imagination and talents into creating because they violate my core convictions,” she said. 

The court ruling said that as a one-person studio, Smith constitutes a monopoly.

“As a monopoly, I have no right to retain my artistic freedom,” Smith continued. “The more unique my speech becomes, the more power the government has to regulate it. Imagine telling Taylor Swift that she has to sing whatever lyrics the government tells her to sing because no one writes songs quite like she does.”

To help encourage the Supreme Court to take Smith’s case, 16 states, 45 members of Congress, and numerous legal scholars, economists, publishers, media organizations and others submitted friend-of-the-court briefs, ADF reported in October.

At the press conference, Waggoner stressed that the government “shouldn’t weaponize the law to force a web designer to speak messages that violate her beliefs. This case is about the freedom of all artists and all Americans. This freedom transcends particular views and is foundational to a free society.”

“This case illustrates exactly why we have a First Amendment—to prevent officials from eliminating ideas they dislike from public dialogue and from punishing beliefs they want to purge from the public square,” Waggoner said. “Free speech allows us to explore and test ideas and pursue truth; it is foundational to a diverse society. Without it, the state decides what is truth, and that looks a lot more like a totalitarian regime.”

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel at LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, said the Supreme Court should "reaffirm and apply longstanding constitutional precedent that our freedoms of religion and speech are not a license to discriminate when operating a business."

Colorado officials have said they never investigated Smith's company and saw no evidence that anyone ever actually asked her to design a website for a same-sex wedding. Lower courts backed Colorado, including the Denver-based 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in a July 2021 ruling.

Added Smith: “Artists don’t surrender their freedom of speech when they choose to make a living by creating custom expressions. Those who create speech for a living are entitled to the full protection of the Constitution. Just because we communicate one viewpoint doesn’t mean we should be forced to promote an opposing viewpoint. Laws should not be weaponized to force us to do so.”