303 Creative Lawsuit Could Undermine Civil Rights Laws Nationwide, Imperil LGBTQ+ People of Faith
Washington, DC — On Friday, a coalition of 30 faith and civil rights groups submitted a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a challenge to Colorado laws that prohibit discrimination. In the lawsuit at hand, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, website designer Lorie Smith claims that Colorado laws violate her speech rights by preventing her from refusing service to same-sex couples and posting a “straights only” disclaimer on her website. In their brief, the faith and civil rights groups warn that buying into this argument risks invalidating civil rights laws across the nation—imperiling the rights of all minorities who rely on the protection of anti-discrimination laws, including LGBTQ+ people of faith. The coalition was convened by Muslim Advocates; the Columbia Law School Law, Rights, and Religion Project and Hogan Lovells.
In her lawsuit, Smith claims that Colorado anti-discrimination laws violate her speech rights by requiring her to sell wedding websites to same-sex couples. She also argues that laws preventing her from putting a banner on her business website stating that she won’t serve same-sex couples violate her speech rights. In the brief, the multifaith and civil rights coalition warns that these arguments misconstrue long-established First Amendment principles and aim to dismantle hard-won protections for full and equal services in public accommodations.
Should the Supreme Court accept Smith’s flawed arguments, explicit discrimination would be permitted, not only based on a customer’s LGTBQ+ identity, but also based on other constitutionally-protected classes that a business owner may find objectionable. A caterer, for example, might refuse to prepare food for an Eid celebration or a bat mitzvah on the grounds that doing so might be perceived as the caterer’s endorsement of Islam or Judaism. Of particular concern are the harms that could be inflicted on LGBTQ+ people of minority faiths, who stand to face multiple levels of discrimination due to their intersecting identities—in violation of decades of civil rights laws.
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis in its October 2022 term.
“The implications of this cynical, malicious lawsuit are staggering. What Ms. Smith and her ideological benefactors are trying to accomplish is nothing less than one of most sweeping rollbacks of fundamental civil rights protections in American history,” said Muslim Advocates Staff Attorney Christopher Godshall-Bennett. “As an organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of the full diversity of American Muslim communities, we are particularly concerned for LGBTQ+ Muslims who could face insidious dual discrimination as they go about their daily lives should the Supreme Court adopt these naked perversions of First Amendment principles. This lawsuit is a shameless attempt to use free speech law as a shortcut to dismantling anti-discrimination laws and re-opening legal doors closed since the end of Jim Crow.”
“For over 50 years, people of faith, particularly those of minority faiths, have relied on civil rights laws to protect their access to the open market,” said Liz Reiner Platt, Director of the Law, Rights, and Religion Project. “This case threatens to upend these protections, ushering in a new era of legal segregation—including on the basis of religion.”
“Public accommodations laws have long ensured equal access to the marketplace for all people. Colorado’s public accommodations law, which dates back to 1885, is based on common law that predates the First Amendment,” said Jessica Ellsworth, partner at Hogan Lovells. “Petitioners’ arguments have it exactly backwards in suggesting that business should be given a free pass to discriminate among preferred and excluded customers rather than ensuring everyone can participate in the marketplace on equal footing. The negative consequences for people of faith, particularly minority religions, from petitioners’ position is overwhelming, as our brief from 30 faith-based organizations details.”
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.