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303 Creative LLC v. Elenis (2023)


 Lorie Smith runs a company called 303 Creative LLC in Colorado that creates websites for couples getting married. The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act prevents businesses from discriminating against people on a number of characteristics, including sexual orientation. The law defines discrimination as refusing to provide services to someone because they fall under one or more of these “protected classes.” 

Smith wanted to publish a message on her own website stating that she would not design websites for same-sex couples getting married, citing her religious beliefs. She brought a lawsuit against the state of Colorado, arguing that the Anti-Discrimination Act compels her to speak messages that she did not want to. This, she contended, was a violation of her First Amendment rights. Colorado argued that the state had a compelling interest in ensuring that all citizens of protected classes receive equal treatment from businesses to uphold their dignity. 

In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled in favor of 303 Creative LLC. It determined that the law forced Smith to publish speech, and therefore violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated: 

“In this case, Colorado seeks to force an individual to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience about a matter of major significance… as this Court has long held, the 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.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent, in which she argued that state governments have the authority to establish sexual orientation as a protected class and ensure that gay citizens have equal access to goods and services. She wrote, 

                      “The unattractive lesson of the majority opinion is this: What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is                          yours. The lesson of the history of public accommodations laws is altogether different. It is that                          in a free and democratic society, there can be no social castes. And for that to be true, it must be                          true in the public market.” 


Analysis Questions 

  1. Describe the background of the case in your own words. What was the law Colorado passed? Why did 303 Creative LLC want to challenge it? 
  1. How did the Court rule? Do you agree with their ruling? Why or why not?  


Big Idea Question  

  1. What do you think the government’s role should be in order to best uphold freedom of speech while also protecting the principle of equality for all people? 



Have your students watch the Homework Help video on Schenck v. United States (1919). Have students consider the following questions:

  1. Is there a difference between “compelling speech” from an individual like in the case of 303 Creative LLC and prosecuting speech that is voluntarily said by an individual?
  2. Should the government be more wary of overstepping the First Amendment boundaries of one compared to the other? Why or why not?
  3. Should free speech laws be applied differently during wartime than in peacetime? Why or why not? 

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