Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Same-Sex Marriage and Faith Case: Live Updates
the case, sequel to one from 2018 involving a Colorado baker, which failed to reach a final decision, is likely to resolve the question of whether businesses open to the public and committed to expression can refuse to provide service to potential customers based on their religious or other beliefs.
The case concerns Laurie Smith, who owns a design company that claims to cater to gay clients but intends to limit the offered wedding-related service to celebrations of heterosexual unions. She claims that requiring her to provide these services to gay and lesbian couples violates her right to free speech.
“If a gay-identifying client asked her to design graphics for his animal rescue shelter or advertise an organization serving disabled children, Smith would be happy to do it,” Ms Smith’s lawyers said the judges briefly. “But Smith will reject any request – no matter who makes it – to create content that contradicts the truths of the Bible, humiliates or denigrates anyone, promotes atheism or gambling, condones the taking of unborn life, incites violence or promotes a concept of marriage , which is not just a union of one man and one woman.”
Colorado law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation by businesses open to the public, as well as statements announcing such discrimination. Ms Smith, who did not start a wedding business or publish such a statement for fear of breaking the law, sued to challenge it.
Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General of Colorado, said the judges briefly that there is nothing specific for the Supreme Court to decide. “The record contains no evidence,” he wrote, “that anyone asked the company to create a same-sex wedding website; that Colorado has threatened enforcement; or that any future wedding website will convey a message that will be attributed to the company.
In any event, he wrote, Colorado’s law was constitutional. Another decision, he said, would have unacceptable consequences.
“A business may, based on its stated beliefs, refuse to bake for Catholic baptisms because it is pro-choice, photograph black family reunions because it opposes racial equality, or create floral arrangements for events celebrating business achievements to women because it believes that only men need work outside the home,” Mr. Weiser wrote another short.
Lower courts have generally sided with gay and lesbian couples denied service by bakeries, florists and others, ruling that potential customers are entitled to equal treatment, at least in parts of the country with laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Business owners who challenge these laws argue that the government should not force them to choose between the demands of their religions and their lifestyles. Their opponents say businesses open to the public must provide equal treatment to potential customers.
The case before the judges, 303 Creative LLC v. ElenisNo. 21-476, is a challenge to free speech that only incidentally touches on religion.
Ms. Smith’s lawyers had also asked the Supreme Court to decide whether the Colorado law violated her right to free exercise of religion and to consider whether to overturn a landmark 1990 precedent. Employment Division v. Smith.
In that case, the Supreme Court held that laws that are neutral and generally applicable cannot be challenged on the grounds that they violate the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.
That ruling, stemming from a case involving the use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies, is unpopular with conservative Christians who say it does not offer adequate protection for religion, and with some of the justices. Last year, the three most conservative members of the court — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — said it was time to overturn the 1990 decision.
In the new Colorado case, however, the court limited its review to whether the Colorado law violated the First Amendment’s free speech protections.
The precise question the justices agreed to decide in the new case is “whether applying a public accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or remain silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
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