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Colorado designer asks appeals court to halt law that forces her to promote same-sex weddings

Judge says artist cannot sue against part of law, will pause rest of suit until US Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop
Court Denies Colorado Graphic Designer Relief from the Same Law Used Against Jack Phillips

DENVER – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allied attorneys representing a Colorado graphic designer, who challenged a state law forcing her to promote same-sex ceremonies, are appealing a Sept. 1 ruling against her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Issued by a federal judge, the ruling refused to temporarily halt the law that also prohibits her from publicly expressing her Christian belief in marriage between one man and one woman. The judge then placed her legal challenge on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a separate and distinct challenge. 

ADF attorneys represent Lorie Smith and her studio, 303 Creative. A federal judge ruled that Smith and her studio can’t sue to challenge a portion of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act because a request sent to Smith by a couple, self-identified as “Stewart” and “Mike,” isn’t formal enough to prove that a same-sex couple has asked her to help them celebrate their wedding. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission has construed the law to force artists like Smith to create objectionable art even though Smith happily serves everyone and decides what art to create based on the art’s message—not the personal characteristics of the prospective client.

The law also prohibits artists from expressing any religious views about marriage that could indicate someone is “unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, or undesirable” because of their sexual orientation. The judge is allowing Smith to sue against that portion of the law but is holding the case until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in another ADF case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, involving Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips.

“Every American, and especially artists, should not be threatened with punishment for disagreeing with the government,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “The government must allow artists like Lorie the freedom to make their own decisions about which messages they will promote. Lorie is happy to design custom art for all people; she simply objects to being forced to pour her heart, imagination, and talents into messages that violate her conscience. Because the court’s ruling allows the government to violate Lorie’s freedom to make these personal decisions, she is appealing.”

“Creative professionals should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of coercion, discrimination, or intimidation by the state,” added ADF Legal Counsel Kate Anderson. “Just because a multimedia artist creates expression that communicates one viewpoint doesn’t mean Colorado can require her to express all viewpoints. Lorie should be allowed to proceed with her full legal challenge because it’s unlawful for the government to force an artist to create art against her will just because of her deeply-held beliefs.”

The lawsuit, 303 Creative v. Elenis, which ADF attorneys filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, explains how Colorado Revised Statute § 24-34-601(2)(a) violates provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Press clauses. The state law is the same one the commission used against Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop.

MRD Law partner Michael L. Francisco, one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case for Smith and 303 Creative.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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