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Supreme Court of the United States

Can the Government Force You to Speak? This 10th Circuit Decision Says “Yes”

By Dustin Hobbs posted on:
December 23, 2021

Imagine for a moment that the government could force:

• A Democratic speechwriter to craft speeches promoting the Republican Party’s policy preferences

• A web designer who doesn’t believe in biblical principles of marriage and family to create a website promoting a church’s views against same-sex marriage or gender theory

• A Muslim singer to sing Christian hymns at a church’s Easter service

• A pro-abortion photographer to photograph and promote the March for Life

Hard to believe, right?

Effectively, that’s the world that government officials in Colorado want Lorie Smith, founder of 303 Creative, to live and work in. As a creative professional working in the web design business, Lorie wants only to use her artistic talents in a way that doesn’t violate her conscience and allows her to choose the messages and causes she uses her creative talents to promote.

Not good enough, say Colorado lawmakers. They say that Lorie Smith—and every other artist—must choose between their beliefs and conscience or potentially crippling penalties and fines. That’s at the heart of the state’s public accommodation law, which has been weaponized by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to target business owners of faith. The same law has been used against cake artist Jack Phillips three times.

In addition to the obvious constitutional problems with censoring speech and forcing the creation of creative content, states that enact and enforce such policies could soon face a potential exodus of productive business owners. In fact, according to Chief Executive, eight of the 10 best states for business do not have any statewide sexual orientation or gender identity regulations that require business owners to choose between their faith and the law. On the other hand, 9 out of the bottom 10 least business-friendly states have enacted such laws.

Despite the damage to the state’s business environment, and in the face of a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which upheld the notion that government must respect views it disagrees with, Colorado policymakers have continued to enforce this law which could harm Lorie and 303 Creative.

That’s why Lorie decided to bravely take a stand for the freedom of artists in Colorado, and throughout the country, by challenging the law. Working with ADF attorneys, Lorie’s case currently awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, after a lower court ruled against her earlier this year.

The dissent after the 10th Circuit ruled against her earlier this year makes clear the danger of forcing Lorie to violate her faith by compelling speech she disagrees with: “Taken to its logical end, the government could regulate the messages communicated by all artists, forcing them to promote messages approved by the government in the name of ‘ensuring access to the commercial marketplace.’”

Can (or should) the government have the power to force an atheist painter to create Christian-themed artwork? Or punish a Jewish-themed website for not promoting Christmas messages and content? If so, what (or who) could limit that power to control information and speech?

Bottom line: the Constitution protects artists’ freedom and right to act (or not act) according to their conscience, and no government official has the right to coerce “approved” speech.

We hope that Lorie’s case will be taken by the U.S. Supreme Court, and that her First Amendment rights are upheld.

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Dustin Hobbs, Senior Digital Copywriter & Editor

Dustin Hobbs

Dustin Hobbs serves as the Senior Digital Copywriter & Editor at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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