Meet Lorie Smith, the Christian Artist With a Supreme Court Free-Speech Case
The high court will hear oral argument in her case — 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis — on Monday, Dec. 5.
Ever since she was a young girl, Lorie Smith has loved weddings. Now, as an artist with her own studio, she says she wants to help others celebrate their big day. But she feels like she can’t — because she is a Christian who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The 38-year-old graphic artist and website designer from the Denver metro area is challenging Colorado’s antidiscrimination law that she says would compel her to use her artistic talents, or speech, to create messages celebrating same-sex civil weddings. At the same time, Colorado argues that the case is one about discrimination: If someone sells a product in the public sphere, he or she has to sell it to all people.
For her part, Smith stressed that she creates for everyone with her company, 303 Creative.
“I serve everyone, including those who identify as LGBT,” she told CNA. “I love to custom create and will work with anyone — there are simply some messages I can’t create regardless of who asks me.”
Her case, she said, is about freedom of speech for all artists.
“I want the LGBT graphic designer to be free to create consistent with her beliefs and the Democrat speechwriter and the atheist photographer,” she said. “A win in my case is truly a win for all Americans.”
Represented by faith-based legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Smith is challenging Colorado officials, including Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case centers on the question of “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
Right now, Smith said that she is compelled.
“After I started my own design studio, I wanted to expand my portfolio to custom create art and websites to tell stories about weddings, but Colorado made it clear I wasn’t welcome in that space,” she said. “Colorado officials are censoring my speech and forcing me to speak messages about marriage that are inconsistent with my beliefs — the core of who I am.”
She added: “Not wanting to be punished for saying what I believe, I had no choice but to challenge this unjust law.”
Smith is optimistic that the Supreme Court justices will agree with her.
“I love to design art — every word I write, every graphic I design, and every website I craft expresses a unique and custom message,” she said. “I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court will ensure that the government can’t force myself or anyone to say something they don’t believe.”
While Smith considers her creative skills a gift to glorify God, she revealed that she was not always a Christian.
“My faith journey began after I lost my uncle, who was like a father to me, to a tragic accident,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why bad things could happen to good people, so I set out on a journey to try to disprove the existence of God.”
Instead, she said, she found God.
“I attended church regularly to equip my arsenal of evidence against him,” she said. “But God had other plans, and it was through this process that he brought me to faith, and that changed my entire life. Now, everything I do or say and how I love other people, I do for his glory.”
According to Smith, her case has only drawn her closer to God.
“As I’ve navigated the highs and lows of the past six years of litigation, including death threats, hate mail, and even having my home address posted on social media, I have grown much in my faith,” she said.
“I know that my stand for free speech is for everyone, regardless of who they are or how they identify,” she added. “I know my stand will protect even those who disagree with me or who say uncharitable things about me. I know the freedom of speech is worthy of protecting, and I want all Americans — and the next generation — to be able to enjoy this incredible freedom.”
She concluded: “My faith has inspired me to continue to stand for this important truth.”
Jake Warner, senior counsel for ADF, explained how Smith’s art translates into speech.
“She creates words, pictures and graphics. And all of those things are what the Supreme Court calls ‘pure speech’ because they express a message,” he said, adding that Colorado has conceded the same about Smith’s work.
Rather than having one product to sell to all, Smith’s creations are tailored to every client, he said. Every website or graphic is custom-made, with different names, pictures and details.
This is not the first time ADF has represented a Coloradan Christian artist at the Supreme Court. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled on a case brought by Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, after he refused to create a cake for a same-sex wedding. With that case, Warner said the court ruled that Colorado had discriminated against Phillips and that his free-exercise rights were violated.
“It didn’t reach the free-speech issue raised in that case, which is the one that the 303 case, or that Lorie Smith’s case, raises now,” he said. “Can the government force an artist to express a message that goes against their deeply held beliefs?”