Americans United joined 29 religious freedom organizations on Aug. 19 in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny a Colorado website design business’s request for an exemption from the state’s anti-discrimination law because the business claimed a free-speech and religious freedom right to deny service to hypothetical future customers who are same-sex couples.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the free-speech claim, even though no same-sex couple has sought such a design or been denied service.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in 303 Creative v. Elenis, Americans United and the other organizations explained how anti-discrimination laws like Colorado’s protect religious minorities as well as LGBTQ people and customers with other protected characteristics, such as race, sex, age and ability.
“Such a speech-based exemption from compliance with anti-discrimination laws would open the floodgates to the very discrimination that these laws are intended to guard against,” the brief states. This kind of exemption would have “devastating consequences for all historically marginalized groups,” but Americans United and the other organizations focus “on the impact for members of minority religions.”
The brief points to the recent rise in anti-Muslim and antisemitic sentiment; offers real-life examples of businesses discriminating against people of minority faiths; and notes that Colorado in 2019 was the state with largest number of religious-discrimination complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Decades ago, we as a society agreed that businesses, which enjoy significant legal protections, must in return be open to all. Equality, dignity and humanity demand that everyone have the equal ability to access the goods and services they need, regardless of who they love, how they worship or what they look like,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “This case could drag us back to a time when religious and other minority groups were forced to go door to door, seeking a business that would serve them and seeing only signs barring their presence: No Jews, No Blacks, No Irish. The Court must reject this abuse of the First Amendment’s guarantees and protect the right of all of us to be treated equally under the law.”
Also joining the amicus brief were Muslim Advocates; Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights & Religion Project; Auburn Seminary; Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative; Bend the Arc; Central Conference of American Rabbis; DignityUSA; Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America Inc.; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Jewish Women International; Men of Reform Judaism; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Metropolitan Community Church, Global Justice Institute; Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity; Muslim Girl; Muslim Public Affairs Council; National Council of Jewish Women Inc.; National LGBTQ+ Bar Association; New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association; New Ways Ministry; Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus; Sakhi for South Asian Women; Secular Student Alliance; Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund; The Sikh Coalition; Soulforce Inc.; T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights; Union for Reform Judaism; and Women of Reform Judaism.
The case will be heard during the high court’s 2022-2023 term, which began this month.