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Supreme Court: Colorado anti-discrimination law is unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that a Colorado anti-discrimination law violates the religious rights of a business owner.
Posted at 10:12 AM, Jun 30, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado web designer who claimed her religious beliefs prevent her from offering wedding website designs to same-sex couples.

The ruling was decided by a 6-3 margin, with all six of the Republican-appointed justices being in the majority.

Lorie Smith, who owns 303 Creative, a website and graphic design company, has wanted to expand her business by creating wedding websites. However, she wants to be able to refuse service to same-sex couples.

Smith said her business venture would feature a statement on its website about her Christian faith, saying creating websites for same-sex couples is contrary to her beliefs.

That put her at odds with Colorado’s anti-discrimination law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Smith’s legal team contended that the law violates her right to free speech. Lower courts rejected the argument before it made its way up to the Supreme Court.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that Colorado already has anti-discrimination laws. 

"Under Colorado’s logic, the government may compel anyone who speaks for pay on a given topic to accept all commissions on that same topic—no matter the message—if the topic somehow implicates a customer’s statutorily protected trait," he wrote. "Taken seriously, that principle would allow the government to force all manner of artists, speechwriters, and others whose services involve speech to speak what they do not believe on pain of penalty. The Court’s precedents recognize the First Amendment tolerates none of that."

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent on behalf of the three liberal judges. 

"Time and again, businesses and other commercial entities have claimed constitutional rights to discriminate. And time and again, this Court has courageously stood up to those claims—until today. Today, the Court shrinks," Sotomayor wrote. 

"The majority protests that Smith will gladly sell her goods and services to anyone, including same-sex couples," Sotomayor added. "She just will not sell websites for same-sex weddings. Apparently, a gay or lesbian couple might buy a wedding website for their straight friends. This logic would be amusing if it were not so embarrassing. I suppose the Heart of Atlanta Motel could have argued that Black people may still rent rooms for their white friends."

But in this case, the right to free speech outweighed concerns over discrimination.

"If anything is truly dispiriting here, it is the dissent’s failure to take seriously this Court’s enduring commitment to protecting the speech rights of all comers, no matter how controversial—or even repugnant—many may find the message at hand," Gorsuch wrote.

Smith’s case challenged the same law that was argued in 2018 when a Colorado baker refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.

The high court said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted with anti-religious bias against the baker, Jack Phillips.

However, the justices at the time did not rule on whether a business can refuse service to people of the LGBTQ+ community based on religious beliefs.