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Broad ideological support filed at US Supreme Court in favor of free speech, CO graphic designer

ADF attorneys represent Lorie Smith in 303 Creative v. Elenis
Lorie Smith

WASHINGTON – A diverse group including artists, publishers, LGBT-advocacy organizations, legal scholars, and 20 states have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to rule in favor of free speech in the case of Denver-area graphic artist and website designer Lorie Smith and her design studio, 303 Creative. George and Maxine Maynard—the prevailing party in one of the Supreme Court’s most important compelled-speech cases, Wooley v. Maynard, also filed in support of Smith and free speech.

Even though Colorado admitted that Smith works with people from all walks of life, including those who identify as LGBT, Colorado wants to force her to speak messages about marriage that go against her core convictions. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Smith and her design studio filed their opening brief with the high court in the case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, last week.

“As the briefs filed in this case in support of Lorie agree, free speech is for everyone. The government can’t force anyone to say something they don’t believe,” said ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner. “When Lorie creates a design or website, she communicates a message consistent with her beliefs. And the First Amendment protects Lorie and every American’s right to speak and express ideas without fear of government punishment regardless of whether the government agrees with those beliefs.”

In February, the Supreme Court agreed to review a 2–1 decision in the case by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which took the position that Colorado can compel Smith to create messages about marriage that violate her conscience even though her designs are “pure speech.” The dissent called the majority’s opinion “staggering” and “unprecedented” because the “Constitution protects Ms. Smith from the government telling her what to say….”

First Amendment scholars Eugene Volokh and Dale Carpenter echoed the same concerns in a brief, saying, “the First Amendment freedom not to speak must include the freedom not to create speech…. A freelance writer cannot be punished for refusing to write press releases for the Church of Scientology, even if he is willing to work for other religious groups. A musician cannot be punished for refusing to play at Republican-themed events, even if he will play at other political events….”

A group of states emphasized that First Amendment principles help people across the ideological spectrum: “In short, the compelled-speech doctrine protects people on all sides of polarizing issues. Just as it prevents Colorado from forcing Smith to speak in favor of same-sex marriage, it also prevents Colorado from compelling another graphic designer to create a website promoting a religious organization’s event opposing same-sex marriage if that graphic designer does not want to speak that message.”

And a group of multimedia producers explained how upholding Smith’s freedoms protects America’s diverse society: “Essential to American self-government is preventing the coercive power of the state from foreclosing debate; the solution to speech with which one disagrees is not to silence the speaker but to offer alternative views. It is only the organic result of competing ideas that may form the basis for legitimate government. Colorado’s agreement with [Smith’s] speech is thus irrelevant—it is protected by the First Amendment and must be allowed.”

recent survey conducted by OnMessage found that 95% of respondents agreed that “Americans should be free to express ideas even if the government disagrees with those ideas,” 90% agreed that “the government should not be able to force you to say things you don’t believe,” and 87% agreed that “the government should not deny free speech rights to Americans who create art for a living.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Kristen Waggoner
CEO, President, and General Counsel
As the CEO, president, and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, Kristen Waggoner leads the faith-based organization in advancing the God-given right to live and speak the truth in the U.S. and around the world.