The Supreme Court ruled on a major free speech case. Here's what you need to know about 303 Creative v. Elenis.

The Supreme Court ruled on a major free speech case. Here’s what you need to know.

Jun 30, 2023 by Cindy Crawford

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot force artists to say something that goes against their beliefs. It’s a major decision with implications well beyond website design, the creative sector where the case originated.

It started about seven years ago. Lorie Smith, a small independent website designer in Colorado, wanted to grow her design business and start offering custom sites to couples getting married. As a Christian, Smith felt any creative expression about marriage should match her religious beliefs. While she serves LGBTQ customers in other contexts, Smith felt that designing sites for same-sex weddings would violate those beliefs.

You can see why debate around the case has been contentious; it seems to involve a mix of competing protections. But many headlines miss the nuance. They cast the case as being about discrimination, suggesting that whether a creative professional can refuse to speak a certain message is the same as refusing to serve customers based on who they are.

It’s not. And today’s ruling reaffirms that.

As my colleague Casey Mattox has said, “there is a fundamental, constitutional distinction between refusing to serve someone because of who they are — which is not just illegal but reprehensible — versus declining to say what you do not believe.”

The court’s decision clearly draws that line:

[T]olerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer. The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands.

Want to learn more? I wrote about the free-market implications of 303 Creative for the American Institute for Economic Research. My AFP colleague Casey Mattox further explored the case’s First Amendment implications and how it will affect more than just wedding vendors. The decision protects the speech rights of designers and millions of other creators and artists across the country.