Listen live: Supreme Court hears arguments in same-sex marriage and faith cases

The case, a follow-up to a 2018 case involving a Colorado baker that failed to reach a final ruling, will likely address the question of whether a business that is open to the public and engages in expression can deny service to potential customers based on their religious beliefs or other beliefs.

The case involves Lorie Smith, who owns a design firm that purports to serve gay clients but intends to limit proposed wedding-related services to celebrations of heterosexual unions. She argued that requiring her to provide these services to gay couples violated her free speech rights.

“If a client who identified as gay asked her to design graphics for his animal shelter, or promote an organization that served children with disabilities, Smith would gladly do so,” Ms. Smith said. Smith’s attorney told the judge in a letter. “But Smith will reject any request – no matter who makes it – to create content that contradicts biblical truth, disparages or disparages someone, promotes atheism or gambling, supports the taking of unborn life, incites violence, or promotes “atheism” “The concept. Marriage is not just the union of a man and a woman.”

A Colorado law prohibits businesses open to the public from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and statements announcing such discrimination. Mrs. The lawsuit challenges Smith, who has yet to start a wedding business or make such statements for fear of breaking the law.

Colorado Attorney General Philip J. Weiser told the justices in a letter that the Supreme Court did not have any specific decisions. “There is no evidence on the record,” he wrote, “that the company was ever asked to create a website for same-sex weddings; that the State of Colorado threatened law enforcement; or that any future wedding website conveyed a message that it was attributable to the company.”

Regardless, Colorado’s law is constitutional, he wrote. A ruling otherwise would have unacceptable consequences, he said.

“A business can, based on its stated beliefs, refuse to bake for a Catholic baptism because it supports abortion; it can photograph a black family reunion because it opposes racial equality; think only men should be working outside,” Mr. Weiser wrote in another letter.

Lower courts have generally sided with gay couples who have been denied service by bakeries, florists and others, ruling that potential customers are entitled to equal treatment and that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by law in at least some parts of the country.

Business owners challenging the laws argue that the government should not force them to choose between faith requirements and livelihood requirements. Their opponents say businesses that are open to the public must offer equal treatment to potential customers.

The case before the judge, 303 Creative LLC v. Elaines, no. 21-476, is a free speech challenge that only incidentally touches on religion.

Mrs. Smith’s lawyers are also asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether the Colorado law violates her right to practice religion freely, and to consider whether to overturn an important 1990 precedent, Employment Division v. Smith. smith.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that neutral and generally applicable laws cannot be challenged on the grounds that they violate the First Amendment protections for freedom of religion or belief.

The decision, which stems from a case involving the use of cacti in Native American religious ceremonies, was unpopular with conservative Christians and some judges who said it did not provide enough protection for religion. Last year, the three most conservative members of the court — Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch – said it was time to reverse the 1990 decision.

In the new Colorado case, though, the court limited its review to the question of whether Colorado law violates First Amendment protections for free speech.

The exact question the judge agreed to decide in the new case was “whether application of public accommodation laws to compel an artist to speak or remain silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

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