US court ruling a win for freedom of speech

Lorie Smith, an American artist and business owner of a design studio (“303 Creative”), challenged a Colorado law that required her to create designs that conflicted with her beliefs about marriage. Lorie’s business originally focused on advocating for various causes, including supporting children with disabilities, extolling the beauty of marriage, promoting overseas missions, assisting animal shelters, and honouring veterans.

Lorie had intended to extend her work portfolio to design custom websites celebrating traditional marriage between a man and a woman, until she realised that she would be prevented from doing so by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Feeling censored by Colorado's law—a law that had also been used to penalise the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips—Lorie decided to challenge it legally.

In July 2021, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled against her, stating that Colorado could compel her to create websites promoting messages she disagreed with.

Undeterred, Lorie appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States in September 2021, and her case was heard in December 2022. In a landmark 6-3 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of free speech, stating that a businessperson cannot be compelled to create a work of art which goes against their values and which they would not produce for any client:

“the First Amendment protects an individual’s right to speak his mind regardless of whether the government considers his speech sensible and well intentioned or deeply ‘misguided.’”

This ruling is a significant victory not just for Lorie, but for freedom of speech in the United States. It upholds the fundamental principle that nobody should be compelled to express something that they don't believe.

Australia is lagging far behind the United States, with protections for rights to religious freedom, thought, expression and speech remaining woefully inadequate and unprotected in law. The case highlights the urgent need for a religious freedom bill in Australia, even if the protection does not go quite as far as this ruling.