Creative Fireworks

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: In the potentially landmark case 303 Creative v. Elenis, the Supreme Court has the opportunity — and constitutional obligation — to embrace the Catholic understanding of the human person and our fundamental conscience rights.

Lorie Smith is a Christian website designer.
Lorie Smith is a Christian website designer. (photo: Alliance Defending Freedom))

It’s late June, which means Americans are unfurling the Stars and Stripes, and planning for cookouts and fireworks is well underway for Independence Day celebrations.

Patriotism is a good thing. In its reflection on the Fourth Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares, “The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity” (2239). While it is always virtuous to have a properly ordered love of country, this Independence Day, Catholics may have another reason to be proud to be an American — and thankful anew for our constitutional liberties. 

As the Supreme Court term is coming to an end, we await another important decision touching on religious freedom and expression in the case 303 Creative v. Elenis. Here’s the background: Lorie Smith, a Christian website designer and the owner of 303 Creative, is challenging a Colorado law that could force her to create websites for same-sex “weddings.”

Smith’s opponents believe she is discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation, but that’s not the case. She is willing to serve all those who identify as part of the LGBTQ movement. But she refuses, because of her Christian faith, to use her creative talents to serve messages that are inconsistent with her religious beliefs. Ultimately, this isn’t a case about discrimination; it’s about protecting Smith’s free-speech rights under the First Amendment. And it has significant consequences.

Christians have a duty to boldly and charitably live in accordance with the Truth, and such a powerful witness always evokes strong reactions. We can’t necessarily stop governments or secular culture from treating Christians with hostility, especially in our defense of traditional marriage and sexual morals. The Church has always been persecuted, and nobody should be surprised that government is harassing Christians again today. 

But the 303 Creative case isn’t an exasperated legal lament against the anti-Christian forces in our society. Instead, it’s giving the Supreme Court an opportunity to continue to defend our constitutional right to free expression — in allowing the space for believers to speak religious convictions publicly and also assuring that the government cannot force an individual or organization to utter its preferred message. 

Recognizing the importance of this case, last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Colorado Catholic Conference joined with several Protestant groups to file an amicus brief in support of Smith. “The Court should do here what it has so often done in the past: Apply the Free Speech Clause to protect religious speech, thereby strengthening liberty not just for the religious but for all society,” the brief read.

This case — and the First Amendment — hits upon a fundamental truth about the nature of the human person. Humans are body and soul; and as such, our beliefs reveal themselves in our actions, and our actions solidify (or undermine) our beliefs. The Church understands this profoundly. As St. James the Apostle teaches us, “faith apart from works is dead” (2:26). Or as Christ put it, you will know people by their fruits — by what they produce (Matthew 7:15-20). 

It certainly matters what we believe. But our work and our creativity are also manifestations of who we are. If there’s conflict between our convictions and our actions, the discord is obvious.

These principles are not suspended just because Smith works in the digital realm. On May 28, the Vatican Dicastery for Communications published a pastoral reflection on social media that clarifies the profundity of our digital actions and can help us understand how much is at stake in the 303 Creative case.

Digital interactions should be oriented, the reflection says, “towards encountering real persons, forming real relationships, and building real community.” We must “keep in mind that we are connecting with other people behind the screen.” 

Smith doesn’t create wedding websites that merely appear on computer monitors and cellphone screens. She is forging connections with each and every person who interacts with her work. 

When we understand the relational nature of our actions, we can see that our online presence and digital communications are another expression of the incarnational fullness of our Christian lives. As the dicastery said, “whatever we share in our posts, comments, and likes, in spoken or written words, in film or animated images, should align with the style that we learn from Christ, who transmitted his message not only in speech, but in the whole manner of his life, revealing that communication, at its most profound level, is the giving of self in love.”

Smith can’t embody Christ’s self-giving love if compelled to profess online the falsehood that a person can marry someone of the same sex, because true love, as St. Paul teaches in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” (13:6). 

Smith must have the liberty to represent the truth of Jesus’ teachings not only in everything she says, but also in all that she does. It is part of our calling as Christians to do everything — including create websites — for Christ. And even more importantly in this case, she must not be compelled to express that which directly conflicts with her own deeply held religious convictions just because the state says she should.

I have confidence the court will recognize these fundamental principles. Late last year, during oral arguments on the case, most of the justices’ questions were very positive. Even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) admits, although they lament it, that the harsh dichotomy between church and state is now much reduced as the judicial branch embraces a renewed appreciation for the First Amendment.

So we hope and pray that digital creatives like Lorie Smith — and every American — will be able to take heart and celebrate all the more this Fourth of July, thanking God that our Constitution respects such inviolable freedoms which are endowed by our Creator and so profoundly illuminated by the Church. And no matter what the cost, let’s recommit ourselves to living out our religious convictions and defending our First Freedoms.

God bless you!