Justices to hear case of Colorado designer who wants to post statement saying she will decline to make sites for same-sex weddings
A decision by the US supreme court to hear an appeal by a Colorado web designer who refuses to serve same-sex couples has sparked outrage among LGBTQ+ advocacy groups who fear a major setback for anti-discriminatory laws across the country.
On Tuesday, the supreme court agreed to hear the case of Lorie Smith, a Christian web designer based in Denver who plans to expand her services to wedding website designs. Smith has said that due to her Christian beliefs, she will decline any requests from same-sex couples to design a wedding website.
Smith wants to post a statement on her website regarding her beliefs; however, doing so will violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. As a result, Smith argues that the law is a violation of her religious rights and free speech.
Although the supreme court has said that it will only be looking at the free speech aspect of the case, many LGBTQ+ advocacy groups fear that a potential ruling in favor of Smith will overturn anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQ+ customers.
Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel at the civil rights organization Lambda Legal, criticized the case, saying in a statement: “We are witness yet again to the unrelenting anti-LGBTQ crusade being waged by self-described Christian fundamentalist legal groups aiming to chip away at the hard-won gains of LGBTQ people by carving out swaths of territory where discrimination can flourish.”
She urged the supreme court justices to do what they “should have done three and a half years ago in Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission”, referring to a case the court heard in 2018 in which a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, refused to bake a cake for two men who were getting married.
The supreme court said the Colorado civil rights commission had acted with anti-religious bias against Phillips and ruled in his favor.
Pizer said: “The supreme court here has the opportunity to … reaffirm and apply longstanding constitutional precedent that our freedoms of religion and speech are not a license to discriminate when operating a business. It is time once and for all to put to rest these businesses’ attempts to undermine the civil rights of LGBTQ people in the name of religion.”
One Colorado, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, also criticized the case. In a statement, Nadine Bridges, the organization’s executive director, said: “Just because a business serves a customer doesn’t mean they share or endorse everything that customer believes in. The best way to respect those differences is to ensure that all Coloradans are able to go about our day-to-day lives free from discrimination.”
Garett Royer, One Colorado’s deputy director, said a potential ruling in favor of Smith would affect numerous communities, not only LGBTQ+ people. “A decision by the supreme court allowing discrimination would have implications for our country that reach far beyond LGBTQ people. It could threaten our longstanding anti-discrimination protections. Coloradans have shown time and time again that our state is open to all and these efforts do not represent our values.”
The organization went on to say that if the supreme court chooses to allow “creative businesses”` to be exempt from anti-discriminatory laws, “any business owner that provides custom services or products could claim a right to violate anti-discrmination laws as they apply to others, not just LGBTQ people.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, will be representing Smith in court.
The group, which has been labeled as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement that the Colorado anti-discrimination law “censors and coerces the speech of creative professionals whose religious beliefs do not conform to state orthodoxy”.
Smith’s attorneys have asked the supreme court to reconsider whether it should overrule Employment Division v Smith, a precedent set in 1990 when the court ruled that generally applicable laws not targeting specific religious practices do not violate the first amendment.
The ruling has been a pain point for some conservative Christians and some justices, who argue that it fails to offer enough religious protection.
In 2020, Justice Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr and Neil Gorsuch, the supreme court’s most conservative members, said it was time for the ruling to be overruled.
“Smith was wrongly decided,” Alito wrote. “As long as it remains on the books, it threatens fundamental freedom. And while precedent should not lightly be cast aside, the court’s error in Smith should now be corrected.”
The supreme court, controlled 6-3 by conservative justices, is expected to hear the case in the fall.