Colorado website developer Lorie Smith filed an appeal on Friday in her case challenging the state’s anti-discrimination laws, the latest chapter in the fight between religious liberty and protections for same-sex couples.
Smith owns 303 Creative, which creates graphic designs and websites for houses of worship, political candidates and weddings, among other clients.
“As a Christian who believes that God gave me the creative gifts that are expressed through this business, I have always strived to honor Him in how I operate it,” Smith wrote on her company’s page. “Because of my faith, however, I am selective about the messages that I create or promote – while I will serve anyone I am always careful to avoid communicating ideas or messages, or promoting events, products, services, or organizations, that are inconsistent with my religious beliefs.”
Her lawyer, Jonathan Scruggs with the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, said that while Smith will accept gay clients, she will not design websites for same-sex weddings.
Smith sued the Colorado Civil Rights Division and Civil Rights Commission, challenging Colorado’s “Accommodations Clause,” which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when providing goods or services.
She also intended to post a statement on her website explaining her policy, in violation of the state’s “Communications Clause.”
A May ruling dismissed Smith’s case on the grounds that she had filed suit before the state took any action against her. Therefore, Smith had no grounds to sue.
Then in late September, another U.S. District Court decision sided against Smith.
“This Court finds that Ms. Smith's statement proposes an unlawful act because it proposes to do something — deny services to same-sex couples — that a different statute, the Accommodations Clause, prohibits,” Judge Marcia Krieger wrote.
Scruggs called the decision “shell game logic,” with the court assuming that the anti-discrimination enshrined in the Accommodations Clause is constitutional.
“It would allow, for example, the government to say you can’t post a statement promoting your book online because another statute says that book is illegal,” he said.
Two other recent decisions in Arizona and Minnesota sided with business owners who refused to serve same-sex clientele.
Smith’s court filings referenced Masterpiece Cake Shop, a Lakewood business that gained national prominence for refusing to bake cakes for same-sex weddings. Krieger rejected the comparison in her ruling because the state did take enforcement action in that instance.
“The only reasonable course for Lorie,” Scuggs countered, “rather than to wait around and to violate the law and to suffer all the things that [the Masterpiece Cake Shop owner] had to suffer, was to go to court and say, ‘hey, I want my freedom.’”
Some faith organizations in Colorado expressed opposition to Smith’s quest.
“A public business must be open to the public,” said Rev. Amanda Henderson Executive Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. “We work to assure that religion is not used as a justification to discriminate. I trust the courts will uphold Colorado law that assures LGBTQ people will not be discriminated against in businesses open to the public.”
Editor's note: The spelling of Lori Smith's first name has been corrected.