SCOTUS Strikes Down Compelled Speech Law – Web Designer Can Refuse Gay Wedding

Hot on the heels of its ruling striking down affirmative action, the Supreme Court has struck down a Colorado law, which could have forced religious business owners to violate their religion and conscience by not allowing them to refuse certain services to LGBTQ individuals.

The web designer, Lorie Smith, sued the state of Colorado in 2016, challenging its Anti-Discrimination Act, which states businesses open to the public cannot refuse services to customers based on sexual orientation, race, or disability. Smith, a web designer, often creates websites for weddings. However, as a religious person, she also opposes gay marriage and argued the law could force her to express support for something that violates her religious beliefs in violation of her constitutional rights.

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Justice Neil Gorsuch summed up the core of the court’s decision in the controlling majority opinion.

“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. Colorado cannot deny that promise consistent with the First Amendment.”

“First Amendment extends to all persons engaged in expressive conduct.” the opinion read.

Colorado argued that the fact Smith was running a business strips her of her rights to such refusal under the Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination against certain protected classes. However, Gorsuch had several answers for this as well.

“But many of the world’s great works of literature and art were created with an expectation of compensation.” he wrote. “And speakers do not shed their First Amendment protections by employing the corporate form to disseminate their speech.”

Read alone, this idea seems to challenge the Civil Rights Act itself. But Gorsuch followed up, clarifying there is no conflict, as Smith is happy to serve LGBTQ people, and that she provides no service to anyone forcing her to express ideas contrary to her beliefs.

 

” ….Ms. Smith will gladly conduct business with those having protected characteristics so long as the custom graphics and websites she is asked to create do not violate her beliefs. Ms. Smith stresses that she does not create expressions that defy any of her beliefs for any customer, whether that involves encouraging violence, demeaning another person, or promoting views inconsistent with her religious commitments.”

In her dissent to the decision, Justice Sotomayor claimed this was the first time SCOTUS had recognized a business’s right to refuse service based on identity as a protected class.

Gorsuch smacks down this objection in brutal fashion, noting that allowing the conversion of speech would be truly novel, laughs at the dissent’s notions of “conduct” being separate from speech and speech restrictions being incidental out of the room, accuses Sotomayor of spending time “adrift on a sea of hypotheticals,” and states “it is difficult to read the dissent and conclude we are looking at the same case.”

President Joe Biden reacted along similar lines.

“While the Court’s decision only addresses expressive original designs, I’m deeply concerned that the decision could invite more discrimination against LGBTQI+ Americans. More broadly, today’s decision weakens long-standing laws that protect all Americans against discrimination in public accommodations – including people of color, people with disabilities, people of faith, and women.”

Ironically, protecting Smith, under her status as a protected class of religious believers, against religious discrimination that Colorado’s law may enforce is the guiding principle of the majority opinion.

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Other stories you may want to read:

SCOTUS Strikes Down Affirmative Action, But Leaves Loophole

 

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