Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2022 / 15:51 pm (CNA).
The U.S. bishops are coming to the aid of a Colorado web designer, a Christian who fears prosecution under state anti-discrimination law for stating her faith-based objections to providing services that promote same-sex marriage.
Along with five other faith groups, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed an amici curiae brief in support of the web designer, Lorie Smith, in her Supreme Court case 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.
“Free speech plays a critical role in protecting religious exercise because ‘freedom of conscience and worship’ have ‘close parallels in the speech provisions of the First Amendment,’” the June 2 amici brief reads.
Supreme Court justices will hear the case next term, considering “Whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”
Smith, the owner of the graphic arts and website designing business 303 Creative, is being represented in the case by Alliance Defending Freedom.
Her work is animated by her deeply-rooted faith, she says.
“As a Christian who believes that God gave me the creative gifts that are expressed through this business, I have always strived to honor Him in how I operate it,” her website description states.
The Colorado-based web designer fears prosecution under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
Smith’s attorneys say that the law would force her to live under threat of prosecution if she declines to design and publish websites that promote messages or causes that conflict with her beliefs, such as messages that promote same-sex marriage or same-sex weddings. Because of the law, Smith has not sought to expand her business to include designing websites for weddings.
Her case is not a response to government action. Rather, it is a pre-enforcement challenge intended to prevent the use of the law that Smith’s attorneys say affects creative professionals who have religious or moral concerns about creating content that violates their beliefs.
Smith’s case is similar to 2018’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a bakery rejected making a cake for a same-sex wedding because of its owner’s religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission argued that this was an instance of unjust discrimination, but the Supreme Court ruled the commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating” the owner’s objection.
The Masterpiece case is the basis for many arguments in Smith’s brief, as well as amici briefs in her favor.
Alongside the USCCB, the June 2 amici brief was filed by the Colorado Catholic Conference, The General Council of the Assemblies of God, The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Samaritan’s Purse.
The brief states, “Values of particular importance to the USCCB include the protection of the rights of religious organizations and religious believers under the First Amendment, and the proper development of this Court’s jurisprudence in that regard.”
The amici brief also states, “More broadly, our culture and our politics have become increasingly polarized, leading to regulations and policies that would force minority voices to choose between violating their conscience or being pushed from the public square.”
Smith, as stated in her petitioner’s brief, does not discriminate against clients on the basis of race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. She instead cares about the message she is asked to create.
Her brief says, “Smith will decline any request—no matter who makes it—to create content that contradicts the truths of the Bible, demeans or disparages someone, promotes atheism or gambling, endorses the taking of unborn life, incites violence, or promotes a concept of marriage that is not solely the union of one man and one woman.”
The USCCB’s involvement in the case aligns with its mission statement, which calls the bishops to “act collaboratively and consistently on vital issues confronting the Church and society.”
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