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. Today’s decision is significant because the Court acknowledged that the belief that “marriage is a union between one man and one woman is a sincerely held conviction.”
Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its much-anticipated decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis, a free speech case with implications for religious liberty. In a 6-3 landmark decision, the Court held that the government may not compel Americans to express messages they do not believe.
The question before the Court was whether a Colorado public accommodation law could be used to compel artists to create messages inconsistent with their beliefs—particularly religiously informed beliefs. Web designer Lorie Smith, a devout Christian, was the plaintiff in the case. Her business serves everyone, including those who identify as LGBT. But Smith, who decides which projects and websites to design based on the message she is asked to express, argued that Colorado’s public accommodation law was forcing her to choose between her business and her religious convictions.
Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch explained that the First Amendment prohibits compelled speech:
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. … But, as this Court has long held, 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 … tolerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer.
Smith, who was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, was motivated to file a pre-enforcement lawsuit against Colorado when she saw how the state had used the same law to punish Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips. Phillips won a 7-2 decision at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 when the Court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted with “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Phillips’ “sincere religious beliefs,” a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.
Although the Court did not address the free speech claim in Masterpiece, in 303 Creative, the Court ruled that using a public accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. As Gorsuch explained:
This Court has also long 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.