Monday’s Supreme Court arguments will be heard about whether a conservative Christian businessman has the 1st Amendment right not to work with gay couples planning to get married.
At issue is a Colorado website designer claiming a free-speech right to ignore the state’s anti-discrimination law and turn away gay couples seeking her services.
California, along with 22 other states, requires businesses that are open to the public, to offer equal and full service to all without regard to race or religion.
Even though the high court has heard similar cases in the past, they have not decided that business owners with strong religious convictions are entitled to discriminate against same sex weddings.
Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based advocacy group, supported a series lawsuits in support of Christians in Arizona who refused to take part in gay weddings. These lawsuits include a baker who makes wedding cakes, an artist who photographs weddings, and a designer of websites.
Lorie Smith stated that she would like to expand her website design business to include weddings but she must be sure she does not have to work with the same-sex couple. She sued for such a right but lost before a federal court in Denver.
In February, the justices voted to grant her appeal in the case of 303 Creative vs. Elenis and decide whether it violates the free-speech clause of the 1st amendment to “compel an artist to speak or stay silent.”
Her lawyers argue she does not seek a right to discriminate against gay people in every instance, but only wants the right to avoid being required to — in her view — express support for same-sex marriages that contradict her religion.
She “is willing to create custom websites for anyone, including those who identify as LGBT,” they wrote in their brief, “provided their message does not conflict with her religious views. But she cannot create websites that promote messages contrary to her faith, such as messages that condone violence or promote sexual immorality, abortion, or same-sex marriage.”
Lawyers for Colorado, as well the Justice Department, refuted that claim. They claimed that discrimination based upon sexual orientation is not discrimination.
They said a gay couple might ask Smith “to provide them with a website using a design she has already created for other clients and merely substituting the couple’s names and the logistical details of their wedding,” they said. They claimed that rejecting them would constitute discrimination against the couple and not a speech restriction.
A similar case, involving a wedding cake baker, split the court four years ago. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, shortly before he retired, spoke on behalf of the court in Masterpiece Cakeshop and stated that the state civil rights commissioner had unfairly treated the baker and his religious beliefs.
However, this was a narrow opinion and did not determine whether the baker could have a free speech to not make a wedding-cake for a couple of the same sex.
Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh (now Justice) and Amy Coney Barrett (now Justice) have joined the court, creating an independent conservative majority.
Advocates for civil rights fear that a Colorado court ruling favoring the right to discriminate could lead to more discrimination against LGBTQ customers.
“Every one of us is entitled to be treated as an equal member of our community when seeking goods or services in the commercial marketplace,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, chief legal officer for Lambda Legal in Los Angeles. “Any ruling that allows our precious free speech rights to be twisted into tools for discriminatory exclusion would mock the Constitution’s promises of equality in public life. Depending on the outcome of this case, the door could be flung open for escalating discrimination, including in areas such as medical services, lodging, and transportation.”
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