U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court will decide whether web designer has free speech right to refuse service for same-sex weddings

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The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up the case of a web designer who contends that she has a First Amendment right to refuse to provide online service for same-sex weddings.

The Supreme Court said Tuesday it would decide whether applying public accommodations law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

The high court declined to address other issues regarding the web designer’s religious rights to refuse service under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

The web designer, Lorie Smith, is represented by the conservative Christian nonprofit group Alliance Defending Freedom. She plans to expand her services to offer wedding website design services that promote her understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, according to her cert petition.

She would also like to post an online statement explaining that she can only post messages that are consistent with her religious convictions.

Alliance Defending Freedom had also represented Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding on religious grounds. The Supreme Court had ruled narrowly for Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, holding in June 2018 that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated his rights by showing hostility to his religious explanation.

Smith’s case is 303 Creative v. Elenis.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Denver had ruled against Smith in July 2021. The appeals court found that the Colorado law did not violate the First Amendment when it required public accommodations to provide equal access to services regardless of sexual orientation.

The appeals court acknowledged that Smith’s websites are pure speech implicating her unique creative talents. But Colorado “has a compelling interest in protecting both the dignity interests of members of marginalized groups and their material interests in accessing the commercial marketplace,” the court said.

Smith’s cert petition says the 10th Circuit decision took the “remarkable” stance that the government may force an artist to produce messages that “violate her conscience.” The Colorado law requires Smith to create websites celebrating same-sex marriages and bans her from posting her online statement, the petition says.

Colorado’s brief opposing cert says Colorado’s public accommodations law is “a straightforward regulation of commercial conduct” that satisfies constitutional requirements.

“Additionally, even if a business offers expressive products and services, the message communicated by those products and services is attributable to the customer, not the business,” the brief says.

The SCOTUSblog case page for 303 Creative v. Elenis is here.

Hat tip to Law360, which covered the cert grant here.

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