WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) – Oral arguments began Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court over whether a Christian web designer may be forced to create a website celebrating same-sex unions, with early questioning so far reinforcing expectations as to how the right-leaning majority will rule.
Lorie Smith, owner of the marketing, web, and graphic design company 303 Creative LLC, preemptively challenged Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) in anticipation of legal challenges to her desired web design work celebrating “biblical marriage,” and her intent to publish a disclaimer that she “firmly believe[s]” that she is being called by God to do work that “celebrate[s] His design for marriage as a life-long union between one man and one woman.”
Last year, a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled 3-1 against Smith, finding that her refusal would “arguably” deny service “because of sexual orientation” and therefore interfere with the “equal access to publicly available goods and services” under CADA. Remarkably, Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote that a “faith that enriches society in one way might also damage society in other, particularly when that faith would exclude others from unique goods or services.”
Representing Smith, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) asked the nation’s highest court to review the case. The Court agreed in February, announcing it would consider “[w]hether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
During Monday’s oral arguments, Republican-appointed judges sounded largely sympathetic to Smith’s side, and Democrat appointees signaled alignment with the Biden administration’s position that ruling against CADA would open the floodgates to legal discrimination.
“Can [businesses] be forced to write vows or speeches that espouse things they loathe?” asked conservative Justice Samuel Alito, regarding services that entail personalized messages. The plaintiffs were on “strongest ground when you’re talking about her sitting down and designing and coming up with the graphics to customize them for the couple,” said Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that religious belief was expressly protected not just by the Constitution, but by statute, and rejected Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson’s framing of the case as a question of denying service on the basis of a customer’s sexuality, rather than of the content of the message they sought:
And this is how you handle anti-Christian fascists who want to send all of us to re-education camps. #Gorsuch pic.twitter.com/lGbvUgJwtf
— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) December 5, 2022
Left-wing Justice Sonia Sotomayor, by contrast, suggested that a ruling favorable to 303 Creative would somehow open the door to letting businesses refuse to serve marriages involving interracial couples or, oddly, disabled people.
Questions from the high court’s newest member, left-wing Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, pursued the same line, at one point drawing a bizarre comparison to a hypothetical scenario of a photographer discriminating against non-white children in re-creating scenes from the 1946 Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life:
KBJ’s shocking comments here:pic.twitter.com/PXYQAXSftM
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) December 5, 2022
Despite the back-and-forth, a majority opinion essentially favorable to Smith is expected, though it remains to be seen how broad it will be or how conclusive a precedent it will set given the Court’s relative timidity in other areas.
Legal efforts to force Christian small businesses to affirm or participate in same-sex unions have been ongoing for years. The Supreme Court had an opportunity to clearly rebuke such efforts in 2018 when it sided with Colorado baker Jack Phillips. But instead of clearly affirming that Phillips’ First Amendment rights had been violated, it ruled merely that that the state civil rights commission had displayed a “clear and impermissible hostility toward” his “sincere religious beliefs.” As a result, Phillips remains locked in lawsuits to this day.