The Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis is a crucial victory for every American regardless of their religious, political, or ideological views. In that case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the most fundamental of civil liberties—that the government may not tell people what to think or say.
The decision upholds a great constitutional tradition of valuing and protecting speech not for its content but because individual freedom of thought and mind is our most basic liberty. As the Supreme Court said, “the opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong.”
The Supreme Court has long held that the First Amendment prohibits government from compelling people to speak in violation of their most deeply held beliefs. Indeed, had 303 Creative come out differently, we’d be living in an America where the government has the power to tell citizens what to say and not say. That would be an America with much less freedom and much more government authoritarianism.
The decision in 303 Creative rejects the dark days in our nation’s history where people were refused service because of the color of their skin or the faith they profess. Federal and state public-accommodation laws will continue to apply to millions of transactions every single day, ensuring that goods and services are not denied to anyone. In short, nondiscrimination principles remain firmly in place under the Supreme Court’s decision.
It is Colorado and its anti-speech allies’ cramped view of the First Amendment that is liberty-destroying and would fundamentally reshape America for the worse. During oral argument, Colorado admitted that its claimed power to force Lorie to craft and create government-preferred messages would upend free speech law.
The state was forthright that, under its theory of the First Amendment, government could not only force Lorie to create websites celebrating same-sex marriage, but it could also force LGBT designers to create wedding websites celebrating opposite-sex marriages. This would mean a Black sculptor who created a cross for the Catholic church could be forced to design one for the Aryan church, too. This would be a brave new world indeed.
The First Amendment thus presupposes the right of every American to hold and express opinions—to attempt to persuade others by the communication of ideas. If these civil liberties have any meaning, Stone warned, they must prohibit government from compelling the expression of belief.
Gobitis unleashed a wave of unprecedented discrimination and violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses. And just three short years later, the Supreme Court reversed course in West Virginia v. Barnette. The court held that there is no single constitutional principle more important than that no government official, however high or petty, should be allowed “to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.”
Erin Hawley is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.