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Supreme Court of the United States

Let Lorie Smith (Not) Speak!

By Neal Hardin posted on:
December 17, 2021

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” This is what the First Amendment guarantees to every American about the government’s power (or lack thereof) to restrain or compel someone’s speech.

Yet, this freedom is in question for graphic artist Lorie Smith. Lorie runs a studio called 303 Creative that designs and publishes websites for individuals, businesses, churches, charities, and numerous others. Lorie loves the work she does and puts her heart into every design.

A Colorado law, however, would force Lorie to design and publish websites celebrating same-sex weddings if she does the same for weddings between one man and one woman. This law would force Lorie to promote, create, or express messages contrary to her deeply held beliefs about marriage—in violation of the First Amendment—or be heavily fined.

Colorado and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit see it differently. In a stunning 2-1 decision, the 10th Circuit ruled against Lorie, saying the government can compel her to use her artistic talents to speak messages against her religious convictions.

Now, let’s be clear. Lorie Smith serves all customers. Colorado admits that. The 10th Circuit majority opinion also clearly states that Lorie’s “creation of wedding websites is pure speech.” So, it is not disputed that Lorie’s creation of a website is speech, nor is it disputed that she serves all customers. Yet, the court still ruled against Lorie, putting her in a position where she could be forced to express messages against her deeply held beliefs. As the 10th Circuit dissent explained it:

“No one denies Lorie Smith’s sincere religious beliefs, good faith, or her willingness to serve clients regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. But what she will not do is compromise her beliefs and produce a message at odds with them.”

This is completely contrary to our First Amendment and American tradition. To again quote the 10th Circuit dissent, the constitutional problems are obvious:

“The government’s ability to compel speech and silence would make hollow the promise of other First Amendment Freedoms... The freedom of the press is essentially coextensive with—and reliant on—the freedom of speech. And the freedom to exercise one’s religion necessitates the ability to speak, engage in expressive conduct, and conscientiously refuse to speak, in order to have meaningful protection at all.”

In other words, the right to free speech is necessary for the fulfillment of our other First Amendment rights, such as the right to free exercise of religion. It would be difficult to preach the Gospel if you were unable to preach freely. Nor could you be a faithful believer if you were forced to express messages contrary to your faith.

Lorie’s free speech rights as an artist give her not only the right to speak but also the right not to speak. Free speech is for everyone, not just those who agree with the government.

That is why Alliance Defending Freedom is appealing the 10th Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is long past due for creative professionals and artists such as Lorie to stop living under the threat of compelled speech and government coercion.

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Neal Hardin

Neal Hardin

Neal Hardin serves as Digital Writer for Alliance Defending Freedom


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