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Justice with Jessica: Littleton wedding website case could impact future of anti-discrimination laws

303 Creative LLC
Posted at 7:26 AM, Nov 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-11 09:29:35-05

A Colorado case could impact whether a business owner can refuse to serve you.

The case challenges the state's anti-discrimination law.

Lorie Smith, a Littleton website creator and graphic designer, says the law violates her faith, claiming it would force her to create wedding websites for same-sex couples if she was asked to do so.

If this case sounds familiar, you may remember the case of Jack Phillips and the Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Phillips won a 2018 Supreme Court case after refusing to make a cake for a same-sex couple. He also cited his Christian beliefs for refusal.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop case did not answer whether Colorado's anti-discrimination law violates the free speech of business owners.

The case 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, which goes to the Supreme Court of the United States for oral arguments on Dec. 5, could answer that question.

Justice with Jessica: Colorado case could impact anti-discrimination laws across US

Smith said she sees her Littleton business, 303 Creative LLC, as a reflection of her faith.

"I believe that God is our creator and I’m a creative person, and I want to use my skills and talents to honor him," Smith said. "My faith has taught me that marriage is between one man and one woman."

Smith is challenging Colorado's anti-discrimination law.

The law states in part that it is unlawful for businesses of public accommodation to discriminate against people because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Smith argues that the law would prevent her turning down couples who ask her to create wedding websites for same-sex marriages. The law also bars her from posting a message on her website indicating that clients looking for such services would be refused due to her religious beliefs.

For those reasons, Smith said she now doesn't offer wedding website services to anyone, even though she has been asked by gay and straight couples to do so.

"I am an artist, and an artist doesn't surrender their right to speak freely, and the Constitution protects all artists from being punished," Smith said.

Smith's attorneys consider her website work and graphic design to be her free speech. They argue that the state of Colorado can't compel her to make a wedding website for a gay couple if she's asked to do so, as it would be compelling her to exercise speech that she doesn't support.

"At stake in this case is whether all Americans will have the freedom to speak and to create consistent with their beliefs without fear of government punishment," said Kellie Fiedorek, senior counsel on Smith's case with Alliance Defending Freedom.

A decision on the case could have far-reaching implications.

"The concern is, where does that stop?" said Vance Knapp, employment lawyer who is a partner at Armstrong Teasdale LLP.

Knapp frequently works on discrimination cases.

"It's going to be a very interesting decision, because on one hand, a person should have a right to practice their religion however they want," Knapp said. "But on the other hand, should they also be free to then say that they don't have to serve somebody because of their religion, or even in some cases, it could be their sex, or their race?"

Fiedorek said that wouldn't be the case with Smith, because she serves all types of customers. Smith said she also works with LGBTQ+ customers, but she doesn't want to make same-sex wedding websites.

Knapp said if Colorado's anti-discrimination law is weakened by this case, it could give the green light for more business to refuse to serve more people.

"In that context, could an employer potentially say, 'Because of my religious beliefs, I don't want to hire somebody that is in a same sex relationship, or that is a homosexual'?" Knapp asked.

Knapp said it's possible that some businesses could even start to refuse to serve customers based on age, race, or national origin. He's also concerned that such a decision could weaken similar anti-discrimination laws across the country.

"Based upon the court's conservative makeup at this stage, I think it's an uphill battle for the state of Colorado to prevail in this case," Knapp said. "That's not to say that's impossible."

As she awaits her day at the Supreme Court, Smith will continue to work on her business. She's careful to only take on projects that satisfy these questions: "Is that message something that I'm passionate about? Am I interested in that? Is it consistent with my convictions? So I'm looking purely at the message that's being requested— never of the person requesting it," she said.

We reached out to the Center on Colfax about how they think the case could impact the LGBTQ+ community in the long run. They sent us this statement saying in part:

"It was not that long ago that America had separate drinking fountains, hotels and restaurants for white and Black people. Universities had quotas and country clubs could bar Jews. Do we really want to go back to such a dark place in our history by allowing business owners to freely discriminate against LGBTQ people?"

Supreme Court oral arguments for this case take place on Dec. 5. We could get a decision by June.