Christian graphic designer brought a hypothetical discrimination case to US Supreme Court in effort to deny same-sex couples from taking part in her business.
For the second time in five years, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act is being challenged in the Supreme Court. Christian graphic designer, Lorie Smith, believes that it is her constitutional right to turn down customers who do not align with her religious beliefs.
Smith is looking to start a wedding website design business but would like to turn away same-sex couples. She has yet to start the business, so the entire case is hypothetical. Colorado, like most states, has a public accommodation law that says Smith has to offer all of her services to everyone. Businesses that violate the public accommodation law will find themselves in legal trouble with potential fines.
Smith’s case comes just five years after Masterpiece Cakeshop v. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission in 2018 in which a cake shop was defending its right to refuse to make a cake for a gay couple based on the owner’s religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission fined the bakery under the anti-discrimination law but the bakery challenged the fine and brought the case to the US Supreme Court. The Court ruled seven to two in favor of the bakery stating the Commission ignored religious neutrality and violated the owner’s right to free speech and reversed the original decision.
With this precedent in place, along with the Conservative-leaning court’s recent history of allowing religious justification to stand through attacks on religious reproductive rights by way of Dobbs V Jackson Women’s Health, the outcome leans in Smith’s favor.
“This Supreme Court is hellbent on rubber-stamping the ahistorical and discriminatory views of Conservative Christian lawsuits irrespective of merit, and we’ve seen this court is also willing to bend the facts to meet the law.
“We can be fairly certain the Christian litigant wins in this case, the question is just on what grounds,” Monica Miller, Legal Director and Senior Counsel at the American Humanist Association and OnlySky contributor, told Only Sky in an interview.
Black Santa and other courtroom hypotheticals
Throughout the hearing, several silly hypothetical scenarios were thrown out in an effort to highlight how extreme the outcome could be on both sides. The failure of these hypotheticals is that they all aligned with race, while the question on trial was homophobia.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson asked if a mall photographer could exclude children of color from a photoshoot.
“This business wants to express its own view of nostalgia about Christmases past by reproducing classic 1940s and 1950s Santa scenes,” Jackson said in court.
Instead of answering Smith’s team doubled down stating the courts has “as protected vile, awful, reprehensible, violent speech in the past.”
Justice Samuel Alito continues the mall Santa example, this time making Santa Black and children KKK members.
“If there’s a Black Santa at the other end of the mall and he doesn’t want to have his picture taken with a child who’s dressed up in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, that Black Santa has to do that?” Alito said during the hearing.
A similar example was introduced when the court began hypothesizing about a Black carpenter who would exist in the same artist category as Smith. In this example the question of should a Black carpenter be forced to make a cross for a KKK rally. This example was also shot down because a carpenter does not know what his products are being used for.
Both sides agreed that racial discrimination was wrong, but that was not what was on trial; the case that is being heard is an LGBTQ discrimination issue.
The real risk
Ultimately the court is faced with a lose-lose situation.
If the rule is in favor of the graphic designer, then justices are basically saying that religious-based discrimination is perfectly fine. At that point what is stopping Christians from deciding *insert minority group* doesn’t align with their religious beliefs.
Pubically preaching segregation only went out of style in the 1970s when the former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Sr. was forced to integrate his University in order to keep it publicly funded.
If the Court rules against Smith, concerns have been raised about whether artists have the right to turn down business. If a singer is booked at an event they don’t agree with, are they forced to perform? Presently, the answer is no.
Given how the conservative court has voted recently, it will not come as a surprise if Smith wins.