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Colorado Web Designer Lorie Smith Takes Free Speech Case to the Supreme Court

Alliance Defending Freedom
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Colorado web designer Lorie Smith is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold freedom of speech.

You may not have heard of Lorie Smith. But she has a lot in common with cake artist Jack Phillips.

Jack was targeted by the same Colorado agency that is now threatening Lorie’s rights. Colorado officials tried to punish Jack after he declined to create a custom cake celebrating an event that went against his religious convictions.

But even after the U.S. Supreme Court condemned Colorado officials for acting with “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Jack’s religious beliefs, the same law continues to threaten Lorie’s work as a web designer.

Through her business, 303 Creative, Lorie creates unique and beautiful websites for her clients. Like Jack, Lorie serves everyone. She just cannot express all messages because of her deeply held religious convictions. But because of the law, Lorie could be punished simply for offering to create websites only celebrating weddings consistent with her beliefs.

Lorie knows this is a violation of her First Amendment rights. So, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys, she challenged the law in court. Unfortunately, so far, the courts have declined to protect Lorie’s rights.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit issued an unprecedented ruling which argued that the state can compel Lorie to express messages that contradict her religious beliefs. Now Lorie is hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear her case, will uphold her constitutional freedoms.

Read more about Lorie’s case below.

 

Web designer Lorie Smith is challenging a Colorado law that violates her First Amendment rights.
Web designer Lorie Smith is challenging a Colorado law that violates her First Amendment rights.

 

Who is Lorie Smith of 303 Creative?

Lorie Smith spent over a decade in the marketing and design industry in a variety of different roles—from marketing and advertising to graphic design and branding. She had worked for businesses and organizations both large and small. But something was missing.

That thing was freedom. Lorie wanted more freedom to use her talents in web design to convey messages she was passionate about. So she went out on her own and founded 303 Creative. A Colorado native, Lorie named her business “303 Creative” because “303” is the Denver metro area code.

But then, Lorie learned of a Colorado law that would force her to create messages with which she disagreed. Ironically, the creative freedom Lorie thought she would gain by starting her own business was the freedom this law would take away.

Lorie is an artist who pours her heart, imagination, and talents into the websites and graphics she creates. She also spends one-on-one time with each of her clients, getting to know them so that she can create the absolute best web designs for them—something a large design firm could not offer in the same personalized way.

Lorie is also a Christian who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman. While she will create web designs for anyone, she doesn’t create all messages. She can’t use her design skills and creativity to express messages that violate her deeply held religious convictions.

 

303 Creative v. Elenis

Colorado’s law would force Lorie to use her artistic web design skills to speak messages celebrating same-sex weddings if she speaks messages celebrating marriage between one man and one woman. But on top of that, the law acts as a gag order that prevents Lorie from expressing on her website the reasons why she only creates websites celebrating certain ideas.

This is censorship. And it’s a violation of Lorie’s First Amendment rights.

So, with the help of ADF attorneys, Lorie decided to challenge the law in court before it was enforced against her. And she had good reason to think that it would be.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission has aggressively enforced this law to punish creative professionals like Lorie.

After all, this is the same commission that the U.S. Supreme Court condemned for acting with “hostility” toward Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. And it’s the same commission that went after Jack a second time before backing off once it became publicly known that the commissioners made more comments indicating their continuing hostility toward religious freedom.

The government should be a strong defender of free speech, not its biggest threat.

 

What’s at stake?

The internet should be a place where freedom of speech thrives. Other businesses regularly exercise the freedom to control the content on their websites. Lorie deserves the same freedom.

Just because her religious beliefs are different from those of government officials doesn’t mean she should be targeted for creating art consistent with her convictions. After all, freedom of speech is for everyone—not only those who agree with the government.

 

Case timeline

  • September 2016: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on Lorie’s behalf challenging the law in federal court. Nearly three years later, a judge issued a final ruling allowing Colorado officials to force Lorie to design and publish websites promoting messages that conflict with her religious 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 requires Lorie to promote messages against her conscience in violation of her First Amendment freedom.
  • September 2021: Lorie asked the Supreme Court to take up her case and reverse the 10th Circuit’s ruling and protect her First Amendment rights.
  • February 2022: The Supreme Court announced 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 rule in favor of Lorie.

 

When will 303 Creative’s case be heard? 

No one should be banished from the marketplace simply for living and speaking consistently with their religious beliefs. Not a cake artist. Not a floral artist. Not a web designer.

Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Lorie’s case.

The Court will likely hear Lorie’s case in the upcoming 2022 term starting this fall.

 

The bottom line

The government shouldn’t force Americans to speak messages that violate their beliefs.

 

Learn more about Lorie Smith’s case:

 

Watch:

Lorie Smith reacts to the Supreme Court taking her case:

Hear Lorie Smith’s story in her own words:

Alliance Defending Freedom
Non-profit organization
ADF is the world's largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, marriage and family, and parental rights.