In Cuba, to dissent from the government means you could be tortured and imprisoned, which is what happened to my father before he fled that oppressive regime and found freedom in the United States. In Colorado, to dissent means punishment of another kind. Expressing a view the government doesn’t like means government officials can threaten your livelihood, censor your speech, and force you to convey messages that conflict with your core beliefs.
What separates Colorado from Cuba on this front should be the First Amendment—the fundamental right of every American to freely speak. But Colorado has blatantly ignored the Constitution and is denying American citizens their First Amendment rights.
Take Lorie Smith, for example. Lorie is the small business owner of 303 Creative, a graphic art and website design studio in Colorado. Lorie loves to custom design for everyone, creating artwork for people of all faiths and backgrounds, including those who identify as LGBT. She would like to expand her portfolio to include designing wedding websites, but as a Christian, she only wishes to create custom art celebrating marriage between a man and a woman, a core tenet of her faith.
But Colorado won’t let her. State officials are using the force of the law to try to control what Lorie can or can’t say, a clear violation of her civil and constitutional rights. Colorado is not only forcing Lorie to stay silent about her own religious view of marriage, but its law also is trying to force her to create custom messages that violate her deeply held beliefs. If this sounds familiar, recall cake artist Jack Phillips, whom Colorado also punished for wanting to express ideas consistent with his religious beliefs. He has been in litigation for over a decade now, facing his third lawsuit because of Colorado’s draconian law.
Imagine for a moment this scenario involving someone with a different belief or view. Should the government force an LGBT graphic designer to create a website criticizing same-sex marriage, if a client wanted him to do so? Should the government force a Muslim artist to defame Muhammad? Should a Democrat speechwriter be coerced into promoting the Republican Party’s platform?
No, of course not. Free speech guarantees a free society that benefits every American—and it is not the proper role of government to decide what someone can or can’t say in public.
That’s why Sen. Mike Lee and I led a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Lorie’s constitutional right to create freely, and why the Alliance Defending Freedom is advocating for Lorie’s right to freely express what she believes in a case that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear called 303 Creative v. Elenis. The nation’s High Court, which is hearing oral arguments in this case on Monday, has the opportunity to affirm the First Amendment’s critical role in protecting free speech and every American’s right to earn a living and still speak consistent with their beliefs. Colorado officials are trying to get away with silencing those who hold viewpoints they don’t like; they are wielding their power to try to compel speech and censor opinions they’d prefer to see purged from the public square.
But the U.S. Supreme Court has never permitted the government to compel speech or require silence. Instead, it has continually affirmed that the government cannot dictate what an individual person must say or believe. It’s staggering that even though Colorado agrees (1) that Lorie’s website designs are protected speech, (2) that she willingly designs for those who identify as LGBT, and (3) that she chooses her design projects based on the message requested and not the person requesting it, it nevertheless argues it should be able to control her speech. The right to express one’s beliefs without government censorship or punishment lies at the very core of the First Amendment—it’s intrinsic to an individual’s identity and flourishing.
As we wrote in our brief, “Compelling an individual to use her artistic and intellectual capabilities to create a message that she opposes is the most odious form of compelled expression. Such laws coerce writers and artists into ‘betraying their convictions.’ They are the tools of totalitarian regimes, not the United States.”
At the end of the day, we should be exceedingly grateful the Constitution protects our right to hold our own views, even if those aren’t the government’s. A victory in 303 Creative would mean a victory for all of us.