Lorie Smith Asks Supreme Court to Uphold Free Speech
You may have heard of Lorie Smith. She’s a graphic artist and web designer who loves to bring stories to life through custom artwork.
You may also have heard of the art studio Lorie owns—303 Creative in Denver, Colorado. That’s because Lorie has challenged a Colorado law that would force her to create custom designs that violate her beliefs.
Lorie is seeking to protect her freedom—and the freedom of every American—to express our beliefs without fear of government punishment. Lorie’s case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, has made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in December.
Let’s unpack what 303 Creative is all about.
Who is Lorie Smith of 303 Creative?
Lorie Smith spent over a decade in the corporate design world in a variety of different roles—from marketing and advertising to graphic design and branding. But something was missing.
Lorie wanted to promote causes close to her heart, such as serving children with disabilities, celebrating the beauty of marriage, supporting veterans, and assisting overseas missions. So she went out on her own and founded 303 Creative.
A Colorado native, Lorie named her art studio “303 Creative” because “303” is the Denver area code.
She was excited to expand her portfolio to create custom websites celebrating marriage between husband and wife, but Colorado made clear she wasn’t welcome in that space. Lorie learned of a state law that is censoring what she wants to say and requiring her to promote messages with which she disagrees.
Lorie loves to work with everyone, including those who identify as LGBT. And like most graphic artists and web designers, Lorie decides whether she can custom-design a project based on her beliefs, the content being requested, and her own expertise.
This is because every word she writes, every graphic she designs, and every website she crafts expresses a unique message—something that must be consistent with the core of who she is.
So her decisions on whether to create custom art always turns on what she’s being asked to communicate and never on who is requesting it. And there are some messages Lorie cannot design, regardless of who asks her.
303 Creative v. Elenis
Lorie realized that Colorado was censoring her speech. So with the help of ADF attorneys—and consistent with our nation’s civil rights tradition—she challenged the unjust law to protect her freedom and the freedom of all Americans to say what we believe without fear of government punishment.
Sadly, a federal district court declined to protect Lorie’s free speech rights. Lorie then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which issued another disappointing decision. In an unprecedented ruling, the circuit court held that the state can compel Lorie to express messages that contradict her core beliefs.
So Lorie appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear her case and heard oral argument in December of 2022. Lorie is asking the High Court to uphold free speech for everyone and preserve her right—and the right of every American—to say what we believe without fear of government punishment.
What’s at stake?
Lorie knew what Colorado officials were capable of after watching how they used this same law to punish Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips.
Colorado officials tried to punish Jack after he declined to create a custom cake promoting a message that went against his core beliefs.
And even after the Supreme Court condemned Colorado officials for acting with “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Jack’s religious beliefs, they are now using the same law to threaten Lorie’s freedom to create custom art and web designs consistent with her beliefs.
The government should be a strong defender of free speech, not its biggest threat. It is flagrantly unconstitutional for the government to try to eliminate beliefs it doesn’t like from the public square.
And a government that can coerce and silence someone because it doesn’t like her beliefs should frighten all of us. After all, cultural winds shift. A win for Lorie would also protect LGBT artists and others who disagree with Lorie and want the freedom to say what they believe.
Free speech is for everyone—not only those who agree with the government.
- September 2016: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on Lorie’s behalf challenging Colorado’s law in federal court. Nearly three years later, a judge ruled that Colorado officials can force Lorie to design and publish custom websites promoting messages that conflict with her beliefs.
- October 2019: Lorie appealed to the 10th Circuit, asking it to reverse the lower court’s decision. And in November 2020, the 10th Circuit heard her case.
- July 2021: The 10th Circuit issued an unprecedented ruling in Lorie’s case, upholding the Colorado law that Colorado officials are using to violate Lorie’s free speech and require her to say things she doesn’t believe.
- September 2021: Lorie asked the Supreme Court to take up her case and reverse the 10th Circuit’s ruling to protect her First Amendment rights.
- February 2022: The Supreme Court announced that it would hear Lorie’s case.
- May 2022: ADF attorneys filed their opening brief with the Supreme Court.
- June 2022: A diverse group including artists, publishers, LGBT-advocacy organizations, legal scholars, and 20 states submitted friend-of-the-court briefs to the Supreme Court asking it to uphold free speech for Lorie and all Americans.
- December 2022: ADF CEO, President, and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner represented Lorie during oral argument at the Supreme Court.
The bottom line
Free speech is for everyone. No one should be forced by the government to say something they don’t believe.
ADF team members contributed to the writing and publication of this article.