Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that forcing people to abandon their deeply held beliefs and create speech they disagree with is “an impermissible abridgement of the First Amendment’s right to speak freely.” The case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, involves Lorie Smith, a Colorado website designer who refused to design a website to celebrate a same sex marriage in violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). Penalties for violating CADA include fines, remedial training, and a court order forcing compliance.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the Court, found that Colorado sought to “compel this speech in order to excise certain ideas or viewpoints from the public dialogue.” He affirmed that “[t]he First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands. The Court held that states may not “coopt a person’s voice for its own purposes.”
Life Legal submitted a “friend of the Court” or amicus brief on behalf of Lorie Smith in the case. We filed our brief because it is easy to imagine how laws like Colorado’s will be used to compel pro-abortion speech. Several years ago, California tried to force pregnancy centers to provide referrals for state-funded abortions. While that law was struck down by the Supreme Court, the state is now contemplating other ways to compel pro-lifers to promote its pro-abortion message. Illinois recently passed a law that limits the type of information pro-life pregnancy centers can share through advertising, including websites and billboards. Other states have introduced similar bills.
The Biden administration’s Department of Justice argued that it is “permissible – indeed, uncontroversial” for states to force artists to provide “expressive products” that contain messages “inconsistent with their deeply held beliefs.”
As we noted in our brief, using this reasoning, “The State could compel anyone to provide any service that the State favors and deems equivalent to other services, no matter how irrational, immoral, or repugnant to their conscience (i.e., abortion, assisted suicide or euthanasia).”
We are grateful for the Supreme Court’s ruling in 303 Creative and its implications for pro-life speech. No one should be forced to speak a message that violates his or her conscience in the service of a purported governmental interest in promoting or enabling the extinguishing of innocent human lives.