Imagine being a creative professional in America who creates unique and expressive content that expresses your personal beliefs and worldview. You would sell that content to anyone who approached you, regardless of their physical characteristics or life choices. One thing you would not do, however, is create content or material that conflicts with your personal beliefs. Now imagine the full force of government, trying to force you to create that content with the threat of fines and penalties if you don’t. Thankfully we live in a country that recognizes the importance of free speech and religious liberty, as demonstrated by the decisive ruling of 303 Creative.
Many news outlets saw it differently though. “Supreme Court sides with Colorado web designer in blow to LGBTQ protections” read a headline from one national news outlet. Another read “In LGBTQ rights case, Supreme Court rules for wedding website designer.” Finally, another misleading headline read “The Supreme Court rules for a designer who doesn’t want to make wedding websites for gay couples.” While these headlines could be swiftly rebutted with a few paragraphs, I want to do a deeper dive into the ruling of 303 Creative to show how headlines like these simply got it wrong. 303 Creative was a win for all free-thinking Americans who believe in freedom of speech.
In fact, no such “blow” occurred. The U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Lawrence and Obergefell (legalizing same sex relations and unions), and Bostock (in employment law, expanding the legal definition of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity) remain untouched. Inherent in this headline is an unfortunate suggestion by LGBTQ advocates: that freedom of speech threatens LGBTQ protections. It would be one thing if the Colorado public accommodation law was thrown out altogether by the ruling. Far from that, this case merely clarified exactly what the First Amendment right to freedom of speech allows and disallows in relation to state laws like Colorado’s. Suppose the government forced that news agency to print a different headline with a message it preferred. That agency would likely be quick to sue the government, probably citing 303 Creative’s ruling that the government cannot compel one to say something they do not believe. And as such, rather than being a “blow to LGBTQ protections,” this case is actually a win for free speech protections used by these same press organizations.
The second headline improperly frames the case as an “LGBTQ rights case.” But again, 303 Creative’s ruling stretches far beyond “LGBTQ rights.” This phrasing suggests that there was an LGBTQ plaintiff suing for the right to receive a good or service, and that the Supreme Court denied that right. To the contrary, this was a speaker’s rights case. A speaker sued the government for the free speech right to not be compelled to speak messages they do not believe. And clearly, speakers come in all varieties of viewpoints and opinions. Today, it’s Lorie Smith. Tomorrow, it might be an LGBTQ-identifying person that wants to exercise their right to not be compelled to speak in favor of Biblical marriage. In fact, consider the situations posited by the majority that would be required by the Colorado law without 303 Creative:
303 Creative is not about “LGBTQ rights”; the true focus is on the rights of the speaker in the case, protected by the First Amendment, and how much those rights can be infringed upon by state public accommodations law. And as such, 303 Creative is as much a win for the Christian as it is for the Muslim, the Jew, and even the atheist.
This headline is so factually inaccurate that the Colorado attorneys on the case would likely not even subscribe to it. Both Lorie Smith and Colorado’s lawyers agreed that Ms. Smith is “willing to work with all people regardless of classifications such as race, creed, sexual orientation, and gender,” and she “will gladly create custom graphics and websites” for clients of any sexual orientation .” (See slip opinion pg 4) (see also ADF press release here). The only issue acknowledged by the parties was that Lorie would not produce content that “contradicts biblical truth” regardless of who orders it and regardless of who demands it. Lorie’s actions were not targeted towards gay couples, but towards unbiblical messages. Also the parties agreed to the fact that “[t]here are numerous companies in the State of Colorado and across the nation that offer custom website design services.” (Slip opinion pg 5). This fact raises the question: why are Christian creators like Jack Phillips and Lorie Smith targeted by LGBTQ couples for service?
Any American who enjoys having thoughts and opinions which are outside of those that the government might find desirable and seek to compel should appreciate this ruling. In an age when political orthodoxy and cancel culture might work to stifle debate about controversial topics, it’s as important as ever to preserve free speech. I remember being upset in my Constitutional Law class after talking about cases where the SCOTUS unanimously upheld cross-burning, for instance. But eventually, it sunk in that that ruling extends to all kinds of acts that classify as speech. And the proper way to refute unpopular ideas is not by the government stifling or silencing them, but rather by subjecting them to public discussion and debate. As the Court put it, free speech is a means and an end in our democratic republic: a means by which we deliberate, and the very freedom we seek as an end. That cannot be done if the government is seeking to compel its citizens to say something they don’t believe. That’s why 303 Creative is a ruling for all Americans.
POVs are point of view articles from NC Family Staff and contributors.