Sunday, February 5, 2023

Emilie Kao on 303 Creative v. Elenis: "Can Stand-Alone Dignitary Harm Create A Right to Endorsement and Duty to Endorse?"

The following excerpt is from the introduction to a recent publication that may be of interest to BLPB readers. The publication is: Emilie Kao, 303 Creative v. Elenis: Can Stand-Alone Dignitary Harm Create A Right to Endorsement and Duty to Endorse?, 2023 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y Per Curiam 5, 2–5 (2023). Emilie Kao is Senior Counsel and Vice-President for Advocacy Strategy at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents Lorie Smith.

All people have inherent dignity and should be treated with respect. However, whether and how courts should address legal claims surrounding dignity are notoriously complicated. Does the government have an interest in protecting citizens from “dignitary harm”--subjective feelings of emotional distress or stigma? If so, does the government's interest require it to compel or silence the expression of certain views? If so, does the dignity of the person compelled to speak or remain silent matter? Dignitary harm has played important roles in conflicts between religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Fulton v. Philadelphia. And they are at issue again in 303 Creative v. Elenis, a free-speech case that was recently argued at the U.S. Supreme Court.


In 303 Creative, Colorado's public accommodation law--the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA)--requires graphic artist, Lorie Smith, to create websites celebrating same-sex marriage that violate her religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. Colorado stipulated that Ms. Smith serves all people, regardless of sexual orientation and that her websites are unique, custom, and expressive; in other words, that she is engaging in pure speech. Like many artists, Ms. Smith chooses each word, visual design, and artistic element to tell a unique story that is consistent with her beliefs, whether about animal rescue, homelessness, or marriage. She wants to design websites to “promote God's design for marriage.” Therefore, she cannot create websites that celebrate marriages contrary to God's design for any of her clients, regardless of sexual orientation. Her decisions are always based on the message, not the person.


Colorado claims that it has a compelling interest in ensuring that members of protected classes are shielded from “dignitary harm.” That dignitary harm, though, consists merely in a creative professional declining to endorse their desired message. The Tenth Circuit agreed with Colorado. But in his dissent, Chief Judge Tymkovich warned that, “[l]ike Nineteen Eighty-Four's Winston Smith, CADA wants Lorie Smith to not only accept government approved speech but also to endorse it.” The Supreme Court should refuse Colorado's attempt to create a right to endorsement and a corresponding duty to endorse that would compel Ms. Smith to speak messages that violate her conscience. A government interest in protecting citizens from the emotional and moral distress of disagreement is intrinsically distinct from the material and dignitary harms created by status-based denials. Therefore, courts should treat the claims arising from these distinct interests differently.

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