The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a web designer's free speech claim that she cannot be forced under a Colorado anti-discrimination law to produce websites for same-sex marriages, a practice she opposes on religious grounds.
The justices took up evangelical Christian Denver-area business owner Lorie Smith's appeal of a lower court ruling rejecting her bid for an exemption from a Colorado law barring discrimination based upon sexual orientation and certain other factors. The case follows the Supreme Court's 2018 ruling in favor of a Christian Denver-area baker who refused on religious grounds to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
Smith's case gives the justices an opportunity to answer a question that has been raised in other disputes including the baker case but never definitively resolved: can people refuse service to customers in violation of public accommodation laws based on the idea that fulfilling a creative act such as designing a website or baking a cake is a form of free speech under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
The court declined to take up a separate question concerning whether Smith has a religious rights claim, also under the First Amendment.
Smith runs a web design business called 303 Creative that she wants to operate in accordance with her Christian faith. She believes that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex couples, a view shared by many conservative Christians.
Before adding wedding websites to the services she offered customers, Smith sued the state's civil rights commission and other officials in 2016 because of her concern she would be punished under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. The law bars anyone from refusing "goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations" to anyone based among other things on sexual orientation, age, race, gender and religion. About 20 other states have similar laws.
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