When was the last time you admired a work of art? From a priceless painting hanging in a museum to a beautifully decorated custom cake in your local bakery, creative expression is a God-given talent. Those who use this talent for His glory bless our lives every day, often without us fully appreciating the effort that goes into the design and execution of each work of art. We also take for granted the freedom required to produce these inspirational works and fail to realize what we would lose if creative liberty were curtailed. Unfortunately, legal and cultural efforts are underway in the United States to undermine that freedom. Before outlining the solution to this problem, let’s take a closer look at the important role that creative freedom plays in our society.
Is artistic freedom necessary?
Let’s begin by asking a very simple question: why do creative professionals need freedom? As any child will tell you, forcing someone to “color between the lines” stifles the bursts of creativity and imagination that make art worthwhile. Every work of art, visual or written, has a natural subjective element to it. That’s part of what makes art beautiful. That’s also why imposing conformity or even censorship will degrade the subjective beauty of artistic expression.
Artistic freedom also provides opportunities for individuals to express their emotions. Challenging the status quo through thoughtful display, wit, or satire has been a hallmark of the American cultural landscape for hundreds of years. From pamphlets handed out in the street to signs waved by thousands of protesters, expression has been crucial to raising the profile of an individual, group, or cause. Would those messages have been as effective or even possible if they had to gain approval from a government official first?
In fact, we would have been deprived of some of the greatest works of original art, literature, and more if they had been subject to government approval. Consider:
- Would Thomas Paine’s Common Sense have ever been published? Would Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin have been as widely read? How would the American Revolution or the cause of abolition have been impacted had those works been suppressed by governments defending the status quo?
- What about the words of the powerful orators and preachers who have helped shape our nation? How might their messages have been dulled had they required a government official’s prior approval?
- Even some of the great works of music and visual artwork would likely be far different if the creative process and evolution of technique were stunted by government decrees.
Targeting artists and their faith
Clearly, the creative process requires a broad level of freedom. For most of the history of our country, that was both assumed and respected by governments. Unfortunately, that is not the case today.
Because of laws regarding sexual orientation and gender identity that have been passed by state and local governments, creative professionals like Barronelle Stutzman, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, and Lorie Smith of 303 Creative have been asked to choose between their businesses and their conscience, between their passion and their faith. With Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys at their side, Barronelle, Jack, and Lorie have stood strong, but should they be required to plead with courts for access to their freedom?
Should Jack be forced to design cakes, or Lorie to create websites and content, that directly contradict their faith and beliefs? How would that differ from requiring a Muslim or atheist writer from creating content for a Christian church’s website?
No one should be forced to express or speak a message that violates their beliefs and conscience.
To illustrate this point in his dissent from the 10th Circuit Court’s ruling against Lorie Smith, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich noted that “[r]eligious liberty is among the purest forms of self-determination because it allows believers to retain sovereignty of the soul.” Lorie has appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Protecting freedom starts here
So how can we ensure that artists have the freedom to create? It helps to remember that the purpose behind the First Amendment’s protection of speech is to defend unpopular speech and expression from the ever-changing whims of government and culture. The Founding Fathers witnessed firsthand that threats to speech are threats to freedom and grounded the new nation in a civic environment that cherished speech and expression.
But today many government officials and activist groups have turned to weaponizing certain values—things like “equality,” “diversity,” and “inclusion”—as tools to attack creative professionals. Those who disagree are threatened with lawsuits, fines, or the loss of a business built over a lifetime because of their beliefs.
That’s why ADF defends artistic and creative freedom and opposes attempts to compel people to compromise their beliefs or retreat from civil and political life as the price for following their faith.
Click here to find out more about how ADF stands with men and women of conscience.
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Working with ADF attorneys, Lorie Smith’s case currently awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, after a lower court ruled against her earlier this year.
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