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US Supreme Court protects free speech for all

High court affirms that First Amendment protects Americans from government-mandated speech in 303 Creative v. Elenis

Friday, Jun 30, 2023

WASHINGTON – In a landmark decision Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld free speech for all Americans in 303 Creative v. Elenis, stating, “as this Court has long held, the opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong.” Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Denver-area graphic artist and website designer Lorie Smith and her studio, 303 Creative, whom Colorado has censored for nearly seven years.

“The U.S. Supreme Court rightly reaffirmed that the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe. The court reiterated that it’s unconstitutional for the state to eliminate from the public square ideas it dislikes, including the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife,” said ADF CEO, President, and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of Lorie and 303 Creative. “Disagreement isn’t discrimination, and the government can’t mislabel speech as discrimination to censor it. Lorie works with everyone, including clients who identify as LGBT. As the court highlighted, her decisions to create speech always turn on what message is requested, never on who requests it. The ruling makes clear that nondiscrimination laws remain firmly in place, and that the government has never needed to compel speech to ensure access to goods and services.”

“This is a win for all Americans,” Waggoner added. “The government should no more censor Lorie for speaking consistent with her beliefs about marriage than it should punish an LGBT graphic designer for declining to criticize same-sex marriage. If we desire freedom for ourselves, we must defend it for others.”

ADF attorneys sued Colorado in 2016 on Smith’s behalf for misusing state law to violate the U.S. Constitution. They argued that a Supreme Court decision for Smith would benefit all Americans, regardless of their beliefs, and help end nearly two decades of unconstitutional government coercion against artists. In New Mexico, photographer Elaine Huguenin is out of business; in Washington, floral artist Barronelle Stutzman was forced to retire; in New York, photographer and blogger Emilee Carpenter faces six figure fines and even jail; and in Colorado, the state has used the very law at issue in this case to punish cake artist Jack Phillips, who is enduring his third lawsuit after more than a decade of litigation.

In its decision reversing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, the Supreme Court made clear that the government can’t force Smith to create speech that violates her beliefs just as it cannot force a pro-abortion filmmaker to make a documentary supporting the pro-life movement, a lesbian artist to draw illustrations for a Christian book on marriage, or a Democrat publicist to pen Republican talking points.

“[T]he freedom to think and speak is among our inalienable human rights... By allowing all views to flourish, the framers understood, we may test and improve our own thinking both as individuals and as a Nation,” the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, which says I am free to create art consistent with my beliefs without fear of Colorado punishing me,” said Smith. “This is a victory not just for me but for all Americans across our great country—for those who share my beliefs and for those who hold different beliefs. Whether you’re an LGBT graphic designer, a Jewish calligrapher, an Atheist speechwriter, or a pro-life photographer, the government shouldn’t force any of us to say something we don’t believe. I love people and work with everyone, including those who identify as LGBT. For me, it’s always about what message is requested, never the person requesting. I hope that, regardless of what people think of me or my beliefs, everyone will celebrate that the court upheld the right for each of us to speak freely.”

The Supreme Court’s decision also reaffirms the government’s ability to protect people’s access to basic goods and services. Public-accommodation laws will continue to ensure people have access to goods and services. The ruling affirms America’s commitment to free speech, which has helped advance some of its most significant progress—from abolishing slavery and securing women’s right to vote to passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Each of these movements flourished because America refused to coerce or silence speech.

“Without the freedom to speak, we shutter diverse views, meaningful debate, and the conditions for progress,” Waggoner explained. “Regardless of one’s beliefs, race, faith, or identity, no one should be punished by the government for saying what they believe. Political and cultural winds shift, but the First Amendment’s promise remains constant. If our civil liberties are to have any meaning, people must be free to speak consistently with the very core of who they are. The Supreme Court’s ruling ensures that future generations will enjoy this most essential of freedoms.”

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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