U.S. Supreme Court Rules Website Designer Free to Refuse Services Under First Amendment

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court today has further cemented the notion that people who provide business services may invoke their First Amendment rights when refusing service inconsistent with their beliefs.

The main issue addressed by the Supreme Court had been raised previously in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission concerning “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”  

The Supreme Court ruled today in 303 Creative LLC v Elenis that a Colorado website designer was able to refuse her services for same-sex weddings under the First Amendment, despite a Colorado state law that forbids discrimination against people who identify as LGBTQ+.

This case follows the ideological reasoning of the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop case wherein the trial court ruled in favor of a Christian baker that refused to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. The two rulings demonstrate an important clash between the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and those claiming religious freedom and freedom of speech, while also limiting the ability of state governments to enforce anti-discrimination laws.

Supporters of the ruling have celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision, arguing it is unconstitutional to allow a state government to force artists to state things that are against their core beliefs.

Conversely, opponents of the ruling are concerned about the potential for this decision to open the door for discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation, notwithstanding numerous state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Interestingly, the Supreme Court did not address claims that one of the key pieces of evidence in the case was falsified. Specifically, reports have indicated that the initial request for services by a man named “Stewart” were faked, because the identified individual asserted he never sent the request.

Ultimately, the key takeaway from this notable ruling is that certain business owners, ones that see themselves as artists, will be able to refuse services to people who embody a message or a belief that they do not support. The Michigan State Legislature has recently expanded its anti-discrimination laws, so it is imperative to consult with an attorney to understand your rights as an employer in the changing legal landscape.

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