The state of Colorado can force a Christian web designer to create a website for same-sex weddings under a new federal court decision that upheld the state’s anti-discrimination law.
At issue is a state law, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.
Lorie Smith, a Christian web designer and the owner of 303 Creative, sued the state, saying she wants to use her gifts to “celebrate and promote God’s design for marriage” as “an institution between one man and one woman.” Under Colorado law, though, Smith must design websites promoting same-sex weddings if she designs websites promoting weddings between one man and one woman.
The law also prohibits her from stating her beliefs about marriage on her business website.
On Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Colorado law and affirmed a lower court ruling that had sided with the state. The judges were split, 2-1.
“We must ... consider the grave harms caused when public accommodations discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation,” the majority opinion read. “Combatting such discrimination is, like individual autonomy, ‘essential’ to our democratic ideals. … [A] faith that enriches society in one way might also damage society in other, particularly when that faith would exclude others from unique goods or services.”
Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Judge Michael Murphy. Both were nominated by President Bill Clinton. Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich, a nominee of President George W. Bush, dissented.
Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Smith, said it will file an appeal. ADF called the decision “unprecedented.”
“The government should never force creative professionals to promote a message or cause with which they disagree. That is quintessential free speech and artistic freedom,” said ADF senior counsel John Bursch. “Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips has been harassed for years; Washington floral artist Barronelle Stutzman stands to lose nearly everything she owns; and now Lorie Smith is being told that she must speak views she opposes and can’t post about her beliefs on her own business website. How many more creative professionals will have to suffer before they receive recognition of their constitutionally protected freedoms – the rights they have always had in this country?
“Lorie is happy to design websites for all people; she simply objects to being forced to pour her heart, imagination, and talents into messages that violate her conscience,” Bursch added.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Nito100
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.