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ERLC President Brent Leatherwood Commends Supreme Court Ruling in 303 Creative Free Speech Case

People are free to speak, create, and operate in ways that are consistent with their deepest-held beliefs—even when those beliefs are deemed culturally unpopular.

303 Creative

Washington, D.C., June 30, 2023—Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, affirmed today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the 303 Creative v. Elenis case, stating that “individual rights may not be paved over by a zealous government.”

In response to the court’s ruling in the 303 Creative free speech case, Leatherwood said: 

“If the government can compel an individual to speak a certain way or create certain things, that’s not freedom—it’s subjugation. And that is precisely what the state of  Colorado wanted.

Thankfully, the court has stepped in to say that individual rights may not be paved over by a zealous government. Colorado’s scheme of compulsion and coercion against creators has failed once more.

But the implications of this ruling extend throughout the nation: People are free to speak, create, and operate in ways that are consistent with their deepest-held beliefs—even when those beliefs are deemed culturally unpopular.

What did the court decide in the 303 Creative free speech case?

The Supreme Court has delivered a landmark ruling in favor of free speech. Quoting previous cases, the court highlighted that the framers designed the First Amendment to protect the freedom to think and speak according to one’s deeply held convictions. The government cannot suppress speech simply because it deems it “misinformed or offensive.” The court emphasized that technological advancements, such as the internet, do not diminish the protections afforded by the First Amendment. 

As Justice Gorsuch noted in the opinion, “No public accommodations law is immune from the demands of the Constitution” (14). The First Amendment was designed to establish 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” (26). Justice Gorsuch clarified, “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” (25-26).

What was the 303 Creative free speech case about?

Since 2016, Lorie Smith, founder of the web design firm 303 Creative, has been in the process of challenging a Colorado law that violates her First Amendment rights. 

This same law was used to target Jack Phillips and led to the 2018 Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act. In that case, the court ruled favorably for Phillips on narrow grounds but failed to address the underlying conflict between anti-discrimination laws and free speech rights.

Smith has created various custom websites for people of all backgrounds, but she refuses to use her “design skills and creativity to express messages that violate her deeply held religious convictions,” including the creation of a wedding website for a same-sex couple. 

Why does this case matter to Southern Baptists?

“Southern Baptists have long subscribed to the belief that people of faith should not only be able to hold biblical convictions about marriage and gender, but also to live them out in the public square,” said Hannah Daniel, ERLC policy manager. “No one should be forced to sacrifice their most deeply held beliefs to participate in the marketplace and contribute to our society.” 

More information about this case and ERLC advocacy is available online at the SCOTUS Resource Page.

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview with Brent Leatherwood,
contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected] or call 202-547-0209
Visit our website at
Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC.

303 Creative

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