On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court released a much-anticipated opinion affirming that the First Amendment protects Americans from government-coerced speech.
Justice Neil Gorsuch authored the majority opinion in a 6-3 decision against the state of Colorado and in favor of free speech. Gorsuch was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented.
The case is known as 303 Creative v. Elenis.
As previously reported by the Daily Citizen, Lorie Smith is a Christian graphic artist and website designer from Colorado with her own design business. Smith sued to challenge a Colorado law that would force her to use her artistic talents to convey messages that violate her beliefs about marriage. The same anti-discrimination law is still being used against Jack Phillips—the Colorado baker.
In 2021, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Smith holding that Colorado could compel her to use her talents to create websites promoting messages that contradict her beliefs about marriage. She appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The question presented to the Supreme Court was whether the state of Colorado can compel artistic speech in violation of one’s deeply held beliefs under the U.S. Constitution.
The Court answered that question with a resounding no.
The majority held, “The First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees.”
The Court went on to explain, “The First Amendment’s protections belong to all, not just to speakers whose motives the government finds worthy. 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.”
The majority acknowledged that while anti-discrimination public accommodation laws “play a vital role in realizing the civil rights of all Americans,” the laws are not above the Court’s review.
“This Court has also recognized that no public accommodations law is immune from the demands of the Constitution. In particular, this Court has held, public accommodations statutes can sweep too broadly when deployed to compel speech.”
The Court reviewed past precedent and stated that “the Court found that governments impermissibly compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment when they tried to force speakers to accept a message with which they disagreed.”
In this case, the Court explained, “Colorado seeks to put Ms. Smith to a similar choice: If she wishes to speak, she must either speak as the State demands or face sanctions for expressing her own beliefs, sanctions that may include compulsory participation in ‘remedial . . . training,’ filing periodic compliance reports as officials deem necessary, and paying monetary fines. Under our precedents, that ‘is enough,’ more than enough, to represent an impermissible abridgment of the First Amendment’s right to speak freely.”
The majority opinion declared, “Of course, abiding the Constitution’s commitment to the freedom of speech means all of us will encounter ideas we consider unattractive, misguided, or even hurtful. But tolerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer.”
The Court concluded, “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.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, the non-profit public interest law firm representing Smith, called the decision a “generational win protecting free speech.”
Watch Daily Citizen’s exclusive interview with legal counsel in this case, Kristen Waggoner, also Alliance Defending Freedom CEO and President.
Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, said this about the ruling, “Today’s decision at the Supreme Court in the 303 Creative case isn’t just a win for Lorie Smith, it’s a victory for anyone who supports free speech protected by the First Amendment.
“As a graphic artist, Ms. Smith is unwilling to use her gifts and talents to support causes and messages that contradict her deeply held religious convictions. Coercive anti-speech laws are antithetical to religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
“Despite what critics of Lorie Smith have claimed, this good woman has made clear she is more than willing to serve anyone, but her faith compels her to draw the line when it comes to being forced to use her God-given talents to create something she believes God opposes.
“It’s long past time that bullies and activists back off Christians, and stop badgering, harassing and forcing them to do what countless other artists will happily do. Today’s decision may not be the last word in this ongoing cultural revolution, but it’s a step in the right direction for all those who champion freedom and oppose unconstitutional laws that try and compel certain speech.”
The Supreme Court majority got it right when they wrote, “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.”
Indeed, it is.
Today’s decision was a win for every American.
The Court’s ruling strengthens First Amendment free speech rights and will serve as a reminder to all governmental bodies that they cannot force people to speak a message contrary to their beliefs.
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom.