Supreme Court Must Reject Government Attempts to Compel Speech

December 1, 2022

Ismail Royer, Director of RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, and Howie Slugh, General Counsel of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, co-authored an op-ed published today in the Washington Examiner. They address a case currently under consideration before the U.S. Supreme Court, 303 Creative v. Elenis. Oral arguments are scheduled for December 5th. The case concerns Lorie Smith, a Christian Colorado-based website designer who wishes to create webpages in accord with her religious beliefs. The question presented is whether the First Amendment’s free speech clause prevents states from using public accommodation laws to force artists to communicate messages with which they disagree. Royer and Slugh argue that the High Court must rule in favor of protecting free speech and freedom of religion:

We urge the court to recognize artists’ First Amendment right to refuse to articulate messages championed by the state. Far from imperiling religious minorities, this will protect their ability to express their convictions even when such views contradict those held by the majority.

We support a robust interpretation of the First Amendment that permits artists the freedom to control the message that they convey, even though such a decision would allow artists to refuse to produce art containing Jewish or Islamic messages. A Jewish artist may decline to paint Muhammad ascending to Heaven, a Muslim artist may refuse to portray Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac rather than Ishmael, and an atheist filmmaker may pass on making a movie promoting any faith.

Such situations do not change our minds because we cherish living in a country where friends and neighbors can disagree, even passionately, without using the powers of the state to quash debate and coerce conformity. We would not like to force others to say something that violates their conscience, and we would not like to be forced to say something that violates our conscience. We respect our neighbors’ right to hold sincere beliefs even when we strongly disagree with them, and we do not mistake such honest disagreement for bigotry or invidious discrimination.

The Supreme Court should rule for Lorie while making it clear that it is protecting her right to free expression and in no way recognizing a broader right to deny service solely based on animus toward a class of people. Such a ruling would honor two important societal interests: the interest in having neighbors honor one another as full citizens despite their disagreements and the interest in ensuring that no one is unjustly denied service because of his or her personal characteristics. We hope that the Supreme Court has the wisdom to see that both these interests can be respected and do not need to be pitted against one another.

Read the full article: “Supreme Court Must Reject Government Attempts to Compel Speech.”