The state’s authority does not extend to the human mind
What the Supreme Court win for 303 Creative means for you
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case 303 Creative v. Elenis is a major victory for free speech in America. And a timely one.
Freedom of speech is one of the most basic freedoms we enjoy. It is a hallmark of a free society, yet one that has become increasingly threatened by government censorship. Thankfully, the Supreme Court’s decision strongly affirms the promise of our First Amendment: The government cannot force Americans to say things they don’t believe.
Lorie Smith, the owner of 303 Creative, is a Christian graphic artist who wants to create custom wedding websites that celebrate God’s design for marriage between husband and wife. Her home state of Colorado wouldn’t let her do that, though.
Colorado officials wanted to force her to say things about marriage that she doesn’t believe and that are inconsistent with her faith even though the state agreed that Lorie works with everyone from all walks of life, including those who identify as LGBT, and that her lens for deciding whether to design custom projects focuses solely on the message requested, never the person requesting.
Given her Christian convictions, Lorie can’t say things inconsistent with her faith. So she challenged the Colorado law—the same law being used against cake artist Jack Phillips to force him to express messages inconsistent with his beliefs.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court affirmed Lorie’s right to speak consistent with her beliefs and made clear that all Americans have that right. The decision means that government officials cannot misuse the law to compel speech or exclude from the marketplace people whose beliefs it dislikes.
That’s a win for all Americans—whether one shares Lorie’s beliefs or holds different beliefs. Each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what messages we will communicate—in our words, in our art, in our voice—without interference from the government. The state’s authority does not extend to the human mind.
The Supreme Court’s decision also re-enforces a crucial commitment to the kind of diversity that is rooted in love of neighbor—“a society where individuals and groups who hold profoundly different and mutually opposed beliefs are welcome at the table of public life,” as Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren noted in a recent op-ed for The New York Times. We will not always agree, but when the government respects everyone’s freedom to speak consistent with their beliefs—including beliefs about marriage—it ensures a peaceful society.
Indeed, countries that protect free speech enjoy more robust economic freedom, protect the freedom of the press, and defend protections for minorities and the vulnerable. The Supreme Court affirmed not only the promise of free speech as a basic human right but that the government can’t eliminate people or ideas it dislikes from the public square.
This decision is particularly important given our current cultural divide regarding the definition of marriage—one that is not likely to be resolved anytime soon. The belief that marriage is a unique union between husband and wife is held by people of diverse faiths and no faith all over the world. It is rooted for many in sacred theological teaching and, for others, in a sincere belief that children deserve to have a mother and a father. People can and do disagree with this definition of marriage, but attempts to silence this belief are unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court found.
The court’s ruling affirms that states can enforce public-accommodation laws to stop discrimination based on who someone is and also apply the First Amendment to stop government-mandated speech. With our culture increasingly demanding that we bow the knee to a new ideological conformity—often under threat of state coercion—this court’s commitment to free speech is a welcome sign of hope.
Lorie stood for the heart and soul of what it means to be an American: the right to say what we believe without government censorship, even (and perhaps especially) when we find ourselves in the minority. She knew that if we want freedom for ourselves, we must protect it for others, or our nation will cease to be the vibrant society we love.
But we don’t defend free speech so that we can sit back and rock contentedly in our beliefs. We defend freedom so that we can exercise it—so that we can step out boldly to advance truth in a world that desperately needs it, to courageously live out our faith and love our neighbor.
Like Lorie, each one of us can make a lasting impact simply by choosing to stand. The Supreme Court’s landmark decision rejecting government-mandated speech demonstrates that. May God find all of us faithful in this historic moment.
Editor’s note: The author argued this case before the Supreme Court of the United States.
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