Justice Neil Gorsuch offered a straight-fire defense of free speech and religious liberty in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 303 Creative v. Elenis decision on Friday, which represented a major win for Americans’ First Amendment rights.
As The Federalist’s Jordan Boyd reported, the high court ruled that the government cannot force Colorado graphic artist Lorie Smith to “make wedding websites celebrating same-sex couples because it would violate her constitutional right to exercise her Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.” The high court further noted that such state-enforced coercion is a violation of Smith’s First Amendment rights.
Writing for the majority, Gorsuch left little doubt the current court has a vested interest in defending Americans’ rights to free speech and religious liberty. Here’s a list detailing eight of his best lines from the opinion.
1. Gorsuch blasted Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the dissent for distorting the facts of the case.
It is difficult to read the dissent and conclude we are looking at the same case. Much of it focuses on the evolution of public accommodations laws … and the strides gay Americans have made towards securing equal justice under law … And, no doubt, there is much to applaud here. But none of this answers the question we face today: Can a State force someone who provides her own expressive services to abandon her conscience and speak its preferred message instead?
When the dissent finally gets around to that question—more than halfway into its opinion—it reimagines the facts of this case from top to bottom.
2. State-enforced speech is a blatant violation of the First Amendment.
If [Ms. Smith] wishes to speak, she must either speak as the State demands or face sanctions for expressing her own beliefs, sanctions that may include compulsory participation in ‘remedial . . . training,’ filing periodic compliance reports as officials deem necessary, and paying monetary fines. … Under our precedents, that ‘is enough,’ more than enough, to represent an impermissible abridgment of the First Amendment’s right to speak freely.
3. The dissent’s arguments in favor of coercing Smith’s speech are illogical.
In some places, the dissent gets so turned around about the facts that it opens fire on its own position. For instance: While stressing that a Colorado company cannot refuse ‘the full and equal enjoyment of [its] services’ based on a customer’s protected status … the dissent assures us that a company selling creative services ‘to the public’ does have a right ‘to decide what messages to include or not to include’ … But if that is true, what are we even debating?
4. The First Amendment guarantees free speech protections for all Americans.
[T]he First Amendment extends to all persons engaged in expressive conduct, including those who seek profit (such as speechwriters, artists, and website designers). … If anything is truly dispiriting here, it is the dissent’s failure to take seriously this Court’s enduring commitment to protecting the speech rights of all comers, no matter how controversial—or even repugnant—many may find the message at hand.
5. Nuking the dissent for abandoning its obligation to uphold free speech.
Today, however, the dissent abandons what this Court’s cases have recognized time and time again: A commitment to speech for only some messages and some persons is no commitment at all. By approving a government’s effort to'[e]liminat[e]’ disfavored ‘ideas,’ … today’s dissent is emblematic of an unfortunate tendency by some to defend First Amendment values only when they find the speaker’s message sympathetic.
6. The Constitution calls for tolerance of others’ speech and religious expression, not state-enforced coercion.
Of course, abiding the Constitution’s commitment to the freedom of speech means all of us will encounter ideas we consider ‘unattractive,’ … ‘misguided, or even hurtful’ … But tolerance, not coercion, is our Nation’s answer. The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands.
7. Free speech is a foundational principle of the American experiment.
[T]he opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong.
8. The Constitution trumps all.
[T]his Court has also recognized that no public accommodations law is immune from the demands of the Constitution. In particular, this Court has held, public accommodations statutes can sweep too broadly when deployed to compel speech. … When a state public accommodations law and the Constitution collide, there can be no question which must prevail.