The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a web designer must create websites for same-sex weddings, raising concerns about religious liberty, free speech, and artistic expression.
“The government should never force creative professionals to promote a message or cause with which they disagree,” said John Bursch, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). “That is quintessential free speech and artistic freedom.”
Yet according to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, business owners can be forced to create messages they oppose, even on religious grounds.
Lorie Smith owns 303 Creative, a web design company, and wants to create web designs for weddings. Smith is a Christian, however, and wants to explain on her website that while she serves LGBT people, she will not create a website for same-sex weddings. According to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), that amounts to discrimination.
Circuit Judge Mary Beck Briscoe ruled,
“CADA is a neutral law of general applicability, and that it is not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad….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 ruling exemplifies the ongoing struggle for Christian business owners created by the Supreme Court’s failure to properly address the issue in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and refusal to take up cases such as Arlene’s Flowers v. Ingersoll.
Bursh, who plans to appeal the case, lamented the “unprecedented” decision by saying,
“Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips has been harassed for years; Washington floral artist Barronelle Stutzman stands to lose nearly everything she owns; and now Lorie Smith is being told that she must speak views she opposes and can’t post about her beliefs on her own business website. How many more creative professionals will have to suffer before they receive recognition of their constitutionally protected freedoms—the rights they have always had in this country?”
In his dissent, Chief Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich quoted George Orwell, who said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
He wrote, “The Constitution neither forces Ms. Smith to compromise her beliefs nor condones the government doing so. In fact, this case illustrates exactly why we have a First Amendment. Properly applied, the Constitution protects Ms. Smith from the government telling her what to say or do.”
“But the majority takes the remarkable—and novel—stance that the government may force Ms. Smith to produce messages that violate her conscience. In doing so, the majority concludes not only that Colorado has a compelling interest in forcing Ms. Smith to speak a government-approved message against her religious beliefs, but also that its public-accommodation law is the least restrictive means of accomplishing this goal. No case has ever gone so far.”
This ruling shows why it is necessary for the Supreme Court to take up this case and to rule once and for all on whether through anti-discrimination laws, or any other means, the government has the right to compel not only speech but the active participation in activity that violates one’s religious beliefs.
So-called anti-discrimination laws are a bludgeon used to beat Christian business owners into submission to the LGBT agenda and can just as easily be used against any person to force them to comply with any government-favored ideology.
Until the Supreme Court rectifies this situation, Christian business owners are hostages, and the government essentially bars a Christian from owning a business — at least if they want to stay true to their convictions.
This ruling is flawed on many levels. Not only does it violate the right to the free exercise of religion, but to freedom of speech. This ruling also makes business owners servants to the public. In truth, a business owner has the right to refuse service to any person for any reason, even if that reason is a cruel one, because they own the business.
In this case, Lorie Smith is not even refusing service to LGBT persons, only refusing to perform certain services based on her deeply held religious beliefs. It is unthinkable that the 10th Circuit would actually rule that the government can force her to comply in direct violation of the Constitution. If they can do that, what is the point of even having a First Amendment?