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SCOTUS Rules In Favor of Website Designer in Compelled Speech Case

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Today, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of website designer Lorie Smith and her right to freedom of speech in 303 Creative v. Elenis. Smith had been sued by LGBTQ couples in Colorado for refusing to create a website celebrating a same-sex union. In a 6-3 ruling, the Court made clear that Colorado’s attempt to force her and others to promote messages they object to is unconstitutional. This ruling is a major win for free speech and religious liberty, as it makes clear that state governments cannot compel speech from its citizens.

First Amendment History and Tradition

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a powerful opinion detailing the history and tradition of our nation’s First Amendment values. Citing many of the Court’s past compelled speech cases, Gorsuch wrote that “Colorado seeks to put Ms. Smith to a similar choice: speak as the State demands or face sanctions for expressing her own beliefs . . . .” The Court rightly finds that this choice is “an impermissible abridgment of the First Amendment’s right to speak freely.” After giving several examples of the problematic nature of what Colorado was trying to do to Ms. Smith with its law, Gorsuch writes simply and clearly: “the First Amendment tolerates none of that.”

While Gorsuch makes clear that the application of Colorado’s public accommodation law in this case is unconstitutional, he still recognizes the importance of those laws generally. Indeed, the opinion notes how helpful public accommodations laws were in fighting racial discrimination in the past. Nonetheless, these laws cannot be used to compel speech, particularly as it relates to religious beliefs protected by the Constitution. As the Court puts it: “no public accommodations law is immune from the demands of the Constitution.” It continues: “when a state public accommodations law and the Constitution collide, there can be no question which must prevail.”

Landmark Victory

The majority opinion briefly addresses the arguments of the dissenting opinion, which would have ruled in Colorado’s favor. “It is difficult to read the dissent and conclude we are looking at the same case,” states the majority. Justice Gorsuch ends the opinion affirming that “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.”

NC Family is thankful for this landmark win for free speech and religious liberty in our state and nation! Find more background information on the case here, and also from our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom who represented Lorie Smith before the US Supreme Court.


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