The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday announced that it will hear a case brought by a web designer in Colorado who refuses to provide services for same-sex weddings.
The owner of 303 Creative filed a lawsuit in 2016, claiming that a Colorado law that bans discrimination against LGBTQ residents infringed on her rights. 303 Creative has never actually designed websites for weddings, and there is no evidence that anyone has ever tried to hire the company to provide website services for a same-sex wedding. Nonetheless, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a large Christian nationalist legal group, took on the case.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the business, and ADF appealed to the Supreme Court. The court’s decision to hear the case is troubling. The business is essentially seeking to operate a secular, for-profit company in a manner that blatantly discriminates against an entire swath of the population.
While the owner cited her conservative religious beliefs in court documents, the Supreme Court isn’t going to address the issue of whether the constitutional right to freely exercise religion empowers a business owner with the right to discriminate. Rather, the high court is looking at the issue through the lens of free speech.
303 Creative’s website claims the company will serve anyone but quickly adds there are certain messages it will not endorse.
“Because of my faith, however, I am selective about the messages that I create or promote – while I will serve anyone I am always careful to avoid communicating ideas or messages, or promoting events, products, services, or organizations, that are inconsistent with my religious beliefs,” the owner writes.
This is a distinction without a difference to same-sex couples who want to get married and need wedding services. At 303 Creative, they would be turned away as much for who they are as what they want to say.
By limiting the case to the free speech question, the Supreme Court could hand down a narrow ruling that leaves many questions unanswered. The court’s conservative majority might conclude that the company can’t be compelled to create websites that broadcast messages with which it disagrees, on the grounds that websites are a form of communication.
But it’s hard to see how that same logic would extend to a caterer, a florist or the owner of a bed-and-breakfast who refuses to serve LGBTQ people, as those activities aren’t forms of communication.
Make no mistake: Given the makeup of the court, there is a serious risk that the ruling will be a bad one – but this case, as troubling as it is, is probably not the vehicle to give Christian nationalists the broad, sweeping right to discriminate against anyone who offends their religion that they’ve been seeking for years.