Supreme Court To Hear Case Pitting Free Speech Against LGBTQ+ Rights


The Court will decide: Should businesses have the right to refuse services based on their beliefs?

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a case involving a Colorado web designer who is challenging the state’s anti-discrimination law, claiming that it violates her First Amendment rights. 

Lorie Smith, a conservative Christian who owns a web design company, filed suit against the state of Colorado after it rejected her request for an exemption from a law that protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Smith believes that the law violates her right to free speech, arguing that she cannot be forced to create web designs for same-sex marriages. 

The Supreme Court will consider the case in its next term, starting in October. It agreed to consider “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” NBC reports.  

The case echoes another that the Supreme Court heard in 2018, involving the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. In that case, SCOTUS ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, citing that a previous state ruling against it had shown hostility toward the owner’s religious beliefs. 

At the time, the Court’s decision did not consider whether or not the baker’s right to freedom of speech had been violated by broader anti-discrimination laws. 

Unlike Masterpiece, Smith does not appear to have refused services to any particular party. Instead, she is challenging the law after the state wouldn’t allow her to post a disclaimer on her business’s website, informing potential clients that she will not design for same-sex weddings.   

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in Smith’s case, ruled in favor of the state last summer. 

Because Smith’s case is more generalized around her right to free speech, a decision by the Court will have to address the relationship between anti-discrimination laws and freedom of speech with regards to religious expression: Should businesses have the right to refuse services based on their beliefs?

In a statement posted to its website, Lambda Legal called on the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the state, citing that religious beliefs should not grant individuals the right to discriminate against others. “The constitutional protections for religious freedom and free speech were never intended as weapons of discrimination for those doing business with the general public,” said Senior Counsel Jennifer C. Pizer in the statement. 

“More than fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court firmly condemned use of personal freedoms to excuse businesses’ discrimination,” she went on to say, adding, “But the justices’ decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop lacked that clarity and invited discrimination. The Court can and should clear up that confusion by upholding the well-reasoned decision of the Tenth Circuit.”

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