Supreme Court: Gov't Can't Force Christian Businesses to Promote Same-Sex Weddings

  • Michael Foust Crosswalk Headlines Contributor
  • Published Jun 30, 2023
Supreme Court: Gov't Can't Force Christian Businesses to Promote Same-Sex Weddings

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday handed a Christian website designer a historic free speech victory, ruling that the state of Colorado cannot force her to design a website celebrating same-sex weddings.

The landmark decision involved a Colorado graphic designer, Lorie Smith, who wants to expand her business into wedding websites but does not want to be forced to create sites promoting same-sex weddings. Smith sued the state, fearing that a Colorado law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations would make her business illegal. Smith is a Christian.

She lost at the district court and appeals court levels. But on Friday, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court reversed those earlier decisions and sided with Smith.

“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,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority. “... 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.”

Gorsuch emphasized that “tolerance, not coercion,” should be the nation’s goal.

Smith says she serves all customers, including gay and lesbian customers, but does not want to be compelled to promote messages that conflict with her beliefs.

“The First Amendment protects an individual’s right to speak his mind regardless of whether the government considers his speech sensible and well-intentioned or deeply ‘misguided,’” Gorsuch wrote. “... A hundred years ago, Ms. Smith might have furnished her services using pen and paper. Those services are no less protected speech today because they are conveyed with a ‘voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox.’”

Under Colorado’s logic, Gorsuch asserted, the government “may compel anyone who speaks for pay on a given topic” to promote messages that oppose. Under that logic, Gorsuch argued, the government could require “an unwilling Muslim movie director to make a film with a Zionist message” or “an atheist muralist to accept a commission celebrating Evangelical zeal.”

“Equally, the government could force a male website designer married to another man to design websites for an organization that advocates against same-sex marriage,” he wrote.

Gorsuch argued that the Constitution and the nation’s Founders supported a broad definition of free speech.

“The framers,” he said, “designed the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to protect the ‘freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think.’ … They did so because they saw the freedom of speech ‘both as an end and as a means.’ … An end because the freedom to think and speak is among our inalienable human rights. … A means because the freedom of thought and speech is ‘indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth.’”

Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Smith, called the decision historic.

“Disagreement isn’t discrimination, and the government can’t mislabel speech as discrimination to censor it,” said ADF president and general counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued before the Supreme Court. “Lorie works with everyone, including clients who identify as LGBT. As the court highlighted, her decisions to create speech always turn on what message is requested, never on who requests it. The ruling makes clear that nondiscrimination laws remain firmly in place, and that the government has never needed to compel speech to ensure access to goods and services.”

The decision, Waggoner said, is a “win for all Americans.”

“The government should no more censor Lorie for speaking consistent with her beliefs about marriage than it should punish an LGBT graphic designer for declining to criticize same-sex marriage,” Waggoner said. “If we desire freedom for ourselves, we must defend it for others.”

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Brian PIrwin

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.