Religious liberty at Supreme Court: Can a designer be forced to design a same-sex wedding website?

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The U.S. Supreme Court will on Monday hear a free speech case from Colorado testing the question of whether the government can force someone to affirm same-sex marriage as they go about their daily vocation.

Colorado graphic artist and web designer Lorie Smith challenged Colorado’s anti-discrimination law, which the state uses to force businesses to affirm same-sex marriage.

The law has already been used to attack wedding cake baker Jack Phillips, who refuses to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples or to celebrate “transitioning” of transgenders with special cakes.

Smith says that she is also finding her free-speech curtailed because she wants to start designing wedding websites, but fears the government will force her to create them for same-sex couples, which is not consistent with her faith.

The Supreme Court already ruled once in the case of Phillips, but it was a narrow ruling, leaving Phillips the subject of additional attacks from LGBTQ activists.

Smith and Phillips both are arguing that they are using their creative talents to express their Christian beliefs and they should not be forced to work on projects that violate those beliefs.

“Jack [Phillips] was targeted by the law for declining to create a custom cake celebrating an event that went against his religious convictions. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission tried to punish Jack because of his Christian faith. While the commissioners allowed three other cake artists to decline cakes expressing messages that offended their secular beliefs, they denied this same freedom to Jack. Some members of the commission even made hostile statements against Jack, calling his religious-liberty defense “a despicable piece of rhetoric” and compared that defense to ones used to justify the Holocaust and American slavery,” Alliance Defending Freedom wrote. ADL has defended Phillips all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in its ruling in favor of Phillips, condemned Colorado’s “clear and impermissible hostility toward [Phillips’] sincere religious beliefs” in a 7-2 decision in 2018.

But because the free-exercise-of-religion violation was clear, the court didn’t address whether Phillips’ free speech rights were violated. That left Phillips subject to harassing legal attacks, and he is now facing a new, nuanced legal battle.

It is the same law that threatens Smith: “The State reads its law as even banning Lorie from explaining on her business’s own website what designs she can create consistent with her religious beliefs. But she should be free and empowered to live out her calling. If we want entrepreneurs like Lorie to pursue their dreams, the government must respect their freedom,” ADL writes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit issued a ruling that says the state can indeed compel Lorie to express messages that contradict her religious beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed earlier this year to hear her appeal. The case is 303 Creative v. Elenis, and it is set to be heard by the Supreme Court on Monday, Dec. 5.

In June, numerous groups representing artists, publishers, broadcasters, scholars, and 20 states submitted friend-of-the-court briefs to the Supreme Court asking it to rule in Smith’s favor. Read the Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s brief at this link.

Learn more about the case at Alliance Defending Freedom.

It’s unclear what the recent congressional passage of the Respect for Marriage Act means for people like Jack Phillips and Lorie Smith. They are both fighting Colorado laws that curtail their free speech, but even if they win they might find themselves subjected to federal lawsuits as a result of the new legislation that demands equal treatment for gay marriage.

“Unfortunately, we are aware of case after case where individuals, charities, small businesses, religious schools, and religious institutions are being hauled into courts to defend themselves for living out their faith. These people are not committing hate crimes against their neighbors. No, they’re not abusing peers for their personal choices either. No, they’re being hauled into courts across this country for serving the poor, the needy, and the refugee in compliance with their sincerely-held religious beliefs,” warned Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who advocated against passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

Alliance Defending Freedom was the group that defended the Downtown Hope Center in Anchorage, which provides shelter space for women, but turned away a man who was wearing a dress and calling himself a woman. The man and the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission sued the faith-based center for violating the public accommodation ordinance based on alleged gender identity discrimination, but eventually the commission settled with the nonprofit group.

A senior official of the U.S. Justice Department has called Alliance Defending Freedom a hate group.

25 COMMENTS

  1. You shouldn’t have to do work for someone you don’t want to but it’s a slippery slope. There was a time where people used the same argument but just subbed in a skin color to say no. There was a time when men subbed in the word woman to say no. It smelled just as bad then. My libertarian tendencies think you should have the right to refuse service just the same way I believe women should have a right to what happens with their bodies and the right to terminate a pregnancy. However, I’m not a huge fan of religion being used as a reason because now it’s Christianity but it can just as easily be any religion. I would rather the reason be just a right to refuse service period. Not based on a subjective religious reason. Either way it’s a personal belief and that is where it’s a mess. How do we decide which personal opinion we get to double down on? Is it sexual preference, hair style, if you are a woman, turbans, skin color, single parents? Who knows what might offend someone’s religion? Maybe we should just try to practice kindness and let people do their thing. Separate business from religious judgements. Separate a woman’s right to chose from religious judgements. Seems like there is a theme here which is why so many people are declaring themselves non denominational or agnostic. The fervency of bigotry masked in religious clothing is a real thing. Looks prettier that way I guess.

    • I noticed you used the term “bigotry” in your opinion. This is commonly used when discussing such issues, but not entirely accurately.
      .
      Bigot is defined: One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.
      .
      Would this not accurately describe the complainant in this issue? Rather than live and let live, the complainant is attempting to force their view on those not in agreement, essentially showing intolerance for the defendants views.

  2. Can they? Legally, no. But the left is not gonna give this up until they break people of faith to their will. How many times has the state of Colorado gone after a single baker?

    Progressives are the Borg. They never stop until the assimilate everything.

    Elections have consequences. We had a chance to put some brakes on this and chose not to.

  3. The real question should be: can anyone be “compelled” to design any website?

    Another question: can you choose to provide a service of designing Christian-oriented websites?

    Is a Bible book store required to also sell books on Satanism?

    • Exactly. That’s my point also. Religion is religion. If you ask for special treatment for one subjective belief system aka religion, then people will need to accept that that treatment may apply in ways they don’t like to religions they may have strong feelings against. Next it will be what is a “real” religion. Great post. And I agree with the other post also, probably would get a much cooler website from someone with more creativity and love.

      • DF, it has nothing to do with love; but rather simple logic. Logically, judges should next require men’s clothing stores to also provide women’s clothing; or ski stores to also provide bicycles or wheelchairs. The real problem is the intellectual deficiency within our legal system. Judges have become totalitarian fascists.

  4. IMO LBTGQ peope are more creative and better suited for making wedding cakes and websites, why would anyone want to hire someone that does not want to work for them?

    • Really, more creative, when they don’t even comprehend basic stylistic etiquette. #justsaynotobluehair

    • Blind hog finds an acorn once in a while . . . .
      Frank’s line ‘why would anyone wan to hire someone that does not want to work for them?’ is directly on point. In every one of these cases the buyer had plenty of other avenues to find goods or services, but chose to attack the one business that refused them. In the case of the baker, that store owner even recommended another bakery to make the cake. You have to ask yourself if you REALLY want a product or service from a business that you just legally forced a business transaction from. Really want to eat that cake?
      These are private businesses. Each owner has the right to serve or not serve customers as they see fit. Even if it’s distasteful to the rest of us. I.e., if I enter a store and am told that they do not serve the Irish, I will leave and tell everyone that will listen about the store policy. I don’t like that store’s policy but that store owner has the right to not serve me if he chooses so. This is still America, where we have the right to freely express ourselves. If one store gives you poor service, choose another.

        • Well, I’m some where to the right of Ronald Reagan and Frank probably wears Che Guevara t shirts, and even we agree occasionally.

          • There are some businesses in Juneau where the owners and I don’t get along. One is political in nature, the other is just a horses backside.

            Since they are not the only game in town, I go elsewhere. They don’t want my patronage, I don’t want to give them my money. Simple.

            It’s not rocket science. Unless the gay/trans/whomever lobby is funding it.

      • You hit the nail on the head. No business owner asks his customers about their sexual preferences but that is not enough for certain people who want recognition and applause for their personal choices. They seek out places that might be offended by their personal beliefs and then go out of their way to destroy them. And now they want the government to help. They tend to shy away from redneck bars, though. Maybe some places are still safe.

      • Paul, the complainants believe its not so much about compelling an unwilling party to do their bidding but rather no one should be allowed to deny them service. Currently, they can demand you rent them your apartment under the Fair Housing Act… which appears to be another of many unconstitutional laws we now have. The perverse legal doctrine of “public accommodation” obviously strips property rights from business proprietors. Eventually, you may be compelled to serve dinner to unwanted guests in your home.

        • Agree there. But as I pointed out, these entities are private businesses. They should be allowed to thrive or fail totally on their own. It’s actually a legal/Constitutional right for them to do so. It’s the extra laws that have been thrown in over the years that muddle this. Compelling a private business practice is exactly the same as preventing a business practice. Take it to it’s extreme and you’ll find China. The gov’t assigns you a job, at a sanctioned wage. You live in gov’t housing and purchase goods at gov’t controlled stores. Wonderful to be perfectly equal isn’t it?

    • Frank, the answer to your question is: the LBGTQ complainants are acting as if they believe Christians “are more creative and better suited for making wedding cakes and websites.” If they believe as you do, and are only acting otherwise to effect a ruse upon our legal system, then they are committing a crime…. which makes them criminals.

    • Whether our cherished friends from across the sexual spectrum are MORE creative is debatable. Yet I agree with Frank, why get a product from anyone, who is not 100% behind creating that product for you?? This is simple, pure targeted harassment, which has enlisted their brethren working for the government to exert the full force of said government to beat these individuals into submission. Freedom isn’t necessarily pretty, but the crowd that preaches tolerance at nauseam, has proven to be the most intolerant of them all.

  5. As soon as we have to work against our will the is slavery. This is still somewhat of a free country but the left wants total control. People need to wake up and stand for the right to say no.

  6. Attack after attack on our first amendment rights. The shopkeeper has the right to refuse service to ANYONE for ANY REASON. To compel otherwise is to allow the government shackles on our very wills.

    • What about the restaurant owner that doesn’t allow dogs? Some people are allergic to them, yet if you try to deny service to these people because of their stress-relieving service animals they go nuts. They don’t even ask first, so you could seat them where they would not be a bother to others. Next, we will have trans table dancing and table orgies and better not say anything or you be sued. So this is what it is about. The shopkeeper is being denied the right to refuse service. Even if the wholesalers of this trend drive away your real customers. And if you don’t like it, they sue you. With the blessings of the government.

  7. “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”

    – Looks like the greasy spoon restaurants may be ahead of the courts.

  8. No you don’t have to make a cake for gay folks if it’s against your religion, your Constitution or it just puts a bad taste in your mouth. If they ever do Force people to do what they don’t want based on same-sex marriage, fine. Those gay cakes cost about five times more than normal because it takes so much more energy to make one. If I’m making it I got to fight against myself trying not to make it and screw it up so that makes it harder. Or just fubar the cake up so badly that nobody would pay for it.

  9. American citizens need to google the history of sodomy (LGBTQ+) in the Bible which is true history and then in case law. Sodomites are a very aggressive, invasive people suffering from Gender Dysphoria. Although they cry “victim” they are not victims. Historically, they will not stop pushing as is shown in past when kings had to banish them, because of their aggression toward non-sodomites.

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