The U.S. Supreme Court held that a Colorado graphic designer who wants to make wedding websites does not have to create them for same-sex marriages, in a landmark decision that pit the interests of LGBTQ non-discrimination against First Amendment freedom.
In a 6-3 decision issued Friday, the high court ruled in favor of artist Lorie Smith, who sued the state over its anti-discrimination law that prohibited businesses providing sales or other accommodations to the public from denying service based on a customer's sexual orientation.
Justice Neil Gorsuch authored the majority opinion, which said that, "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."
"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," Gorsuch continued.
"But 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. Because Colorado seeks to deny that promise, the judgment is reversed," he concluded.
ARTIST AT CENTER OF SUPREME COURT FIGHT ‘ROCKED’ BY COLORADO LAW THAT MAKES HER CATER TO SAME-SEX WEDDINGS
Lorie Smith, a Christian graphic artist and website designer in Colorado, left, prepares to speak to supporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5, 2022. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
COLORADO WEB DESIGNER ‘TERRIFIED,’ RECEIVING DEATH THREATS OVER SUPREME COURT FREE SPEECH CASE
Friday's decision reverses a lower court ruling that sided against Smith, who said the law infringed on her First Amendment rights by forcing her to promote messages that violate her deeply held faith.
Lorie Smith, owner of 303 Creative at center of Supreme Court free-speech case. (ADF)
The high court's majority stated that "under Colorado’s logic, the government may compel anyone who speaks for pay on a given topic to accept all commissions on that same topic — no matter the message — if the topic somehow implicates a customer’s statutorily protected trait."
"Taken seriously, that principle would allow the government to force all manner of artists, speechwriters, and others whose services involve speech to speak what they do not believe on pain of penalty," the opinion states.
The case, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, drew national attention as it featured competing interests of the First Amendment right to free speech and non-discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
The law, known as the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), prohibits businesses providing sales or services to the publics from denying services to someone based on their identity. Supporters of CADA claim that the law is necessary to keep businesses from discriminating.
Smith has maintained throughout the case that she has no problem working with the LGBTQ community, just not for gay weddings.
303 Creative owner Lorie Smith said she faced threats after challenging the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. (Alliance Defending Freedom)
"I think it’s important for people to understand that I love and welcome the opportunity to work with all people. My case has never been about choosing which client to work with, but about choosing the message that I’m being asked to promote," Smith told Fox News Digital in a March 2022 interview.
Kristen Waggoner, lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom who represented Smith, said the ruling "makes clear that nondiscrimination laws remain firmly in place, and that the government has never needed to compel speech to ensure access to goods and services."
"This is a win for all Americans. 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. If we desire freedom for ourselves, we must defend it for others," Waggoner stated.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the majority, along with Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, and called the ruling "a new license to discriminate" and that the "symbolic effect of the decision is to mark gays and lesbians for second-class status."
"The unattractive lesson of the majority opinion is this: What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours. The lesson of the history of public accommodations laws is altogether different. It is that in a free and democratic society, there can be no social castes," Sotomayor said.
"And for that to be true, it must be true in the public market. For the ‘promise of freedom’ is an empty one if the Government is "powerless to assure that a dollar in the hands of [one person] will purchase the same thing as a dollar in the hands of a[nother],'" she wrote.
But Gorsuch said that "a commitment to speech for only some messages and some persons is no commitment at all. By approving a government’s effort to ‘[e]liminat[e]’ disfavored 'ideas,' today’s dissent is emblematic of an unfortunate tendency by some to defend First Amendment values only when they find the speaker’s message sympathetic,"
"But ‘[i]f liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,'" he said.
Lorie Smith, owner of 303 Creative, poses at her studio in Littleton, Colorado, on Nov. 15, 2022. (Rachel Woolf for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Smith has said that she faced threats throughout the duration of her case.
"I’ve had my home address put on social media, I have received many threats — death threats, threats of bodily harm," she said in December. "The security system on my home, my child’s school has been on alert. I’ve lost business, my clients have been harassed and my website… people attempt to hack into it, almost regularly by the hour."
SUPREME COURT HEARS FREE SPEECH ARGUMENTS OVER COLORADO COMPANY REFUSING TO CREATE WEBSITES FOR GAY WEDDINGS
Despite this, Smith said she did not regret going to court.