The Supreme Court sided with a Christian graphic designer Friday, clarifying that a Colorado law cannot compel her to create websites for same-sex couples with messages that violate her religious beliefs.
In a 6-3 ruling, the Court sided with Lorie Smith in her lawsuit challenging the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), a law that prohibits public accommodations from restricting services based on sexual orientation. Smith, owner of 303 Creative and represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), challenged the law as a violation of the First Amendment: while she wants to create websites that reflect her deeply held belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, the law would compel her to also create wedding websites for same-sex marriages.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, that “tolerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer.”
“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,” he wrote.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor wrote that Smith’s position is “profoundly wrong” in the dissenting opinion, which Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson joined, stating the Constitution “contains no right to refuse service to a disfavored group.”
“Around the country, there has been a backlash to the movement for liberty and equality for gender and sexual minorities,” Sotomayor wrote. “New forms of inclusion have been met with reactionary exclusion. This is heartbreaking.”
The ruling is also good news for Christian baker Jack Phillips, who remains in court despite his own Supreme Court victory in 2018. The limited grounds of the decision, which found the Colorado Civil Rights Commission demonstrated “impermissible hostility” in Phillips’ case but did not answer whether the law itself violated the First Amendment, allowed another activist to sue Phillips in 2021 after he declined to make a cake celebrating a gender transition.
A Colorado Court of Appeals judge ruled against Phillips in January.
Other ADF cases challenging similar public accommodation laws, like those brought by wedding photographers in Kentucky, New York and Virginia, will likely also be impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This is a win for all Americans,” said ADF President Kristen Waggoner in a statement. “The government should no more censor Lorie for speaking consistent with her beliefs about marriage than it should punish an LGBT graphic designer for declining to criticize same-sex marriage.”
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