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Christian “Artist” Sues to Deny Service… to Customers Who Will Never Come?

The United States Supreme Court today heard arguments in a lawsuit filed by Christian web designer Lorie Smith against the state of Colorado. Smith claims that the state’s public accommodations law would require her to design wedding websites for homosexual couples, which would make her feel ookie and constitute compelled speech, a violation of the First Amendment. The state of Colorado responds that businesses must offer their services equally to all members of the public. without discrimination by “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.”

The hearing brought up a lot of hypotheticals, because Smith hasn’t actually been forced to either make a gay website or tell gay customers to take a hike. Smith filed her lawsuit over six years ago preëmptively, before actually launching her website and taking any customers.

Smith’s preëmptive suit raises lots of interesting constitutional questions worth deeper discussion:

  1. Can we require an artist (and Smith portrays herself not as a business owner producing goods for sale but as an artist expressing herself and fighting for all artists, including the Democrats and atheists) to create art that expresses themes antithetical to her beliefs?
  2. Is Smith really an artist?
  3. Does an artist working on commission enjoy some special status that separates her from other businesses (cafés, auto repair shops, plumbers…) that don’t get to turn away homosexual customers and other paying customers who belong to protected classes?
  4. Come at the above question from a different angle: Might the First Amendment apply to “art”—prose, poetry, painting, sculpture, a website—that I create to express myself but not apply to “art” that I produce for customers who pay me money to express their ideas and identity?
  5. Is Smith refusing to provide service to members of a protected class (i.e., turning down gay customers), or is Smith refusing to produce certain products, specific messages she finds disagreeable and which she would refuse to produce for any paying customer, gay, straight, black, white, male, female, one-legged, two-legged? If the former, it seems clear she’s committing a vile and bigoted act which the First Amendment will not shield from the public accommodations law. If the latter, it seems she’s engaged in simple content moderation, akin to the way Twitter refused to serve the cause of spreading messages of hate and coronavirus misinformation (at least before Christoper Walken from A View to a Kill took over the company).

The prevalence of hypotheticals in today’s hearing makes me wonder if we really need the judicial system to answer these questions, if maybe our conservative justices could take a conservative position, not intervene, and let the market resolve this issue.

Remember, as far as the lawsuit tells us, Smith has never actually faced the quandary that has motivated her six-year-long litigation. No clients have come seeking Smith’s artistry to celebrate Adam and Steve’s nuptuals, and I suggest no tasteful clients ever will.

Smith makes a big deal of her status as an “artist”, but she emphasizes that her “art” is an expression of God’s calling to spread Christian beliefs. She’s not an artist; she’s a Christian artist. And Christian artists just aren’t as good as artists in general or artists who happen to be Christian. The Christian artist isn’t looking to be open and creative and innovative; the Christian artist gets stuck in a holy rut, churning out the same Precious-Moments lambie-pie paintings and Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs and other youth-retreat treacle that all says the same thing: “God is good, God is great—now I can enter Heaven’s gate!”

(Yes, yes, plenty of artists who just happen to be Christian or outright heathens also produce complete garbage, but seriously: compare the oeuvres of two of this year’s Kennedy Center honorees, Amy Grant and U2. Amy Grant is the first Christian pop singer so honored at the Kennedy Center, and there’s a reason for that. U2 is fronted by good Catholic boy Bono, and there songs have enough Jesus juice to inspire the U2charist, but they are not Christian artists, and they have produced a more varied, creative, and durable body of work than Amy Grant. There—fight about that!)

Had Smith actually started her business and branded her service as “Christian art”, she would have ensured that 99% of attentive, artistically sensible, and socially inclusive customers would take their business elsewhere. Smith might have gone out of business or lingered in unprofitability not because of a boycott but because customers would recognize that her “Christian art” wouldn’t provide the same value for the dollar as that of other artists not so bound by piety.

Or look past artistic quality and consider customer service. Smith’s target market is people who want websites to celebrate their wedding. Smith has declared her professional artistic focus is celebrating the message of her own religion. “Gee, honey,” I can hear website shoppers saying to their partners, “do we want a website designer who’s focused on her own message, or do we want an artist who will create a website that’s all about us?” Again, discerning customers will take their business elsewhere.

Alas, discernment among the pious is in short supply. Just as the Newsboys keep selling out concerts, Smith can probably find plenty of Christian customers for her Christian art, customers who, like her, care far less about art than about overt expressions of their salvation-seeking fealty to Christ.

An Alito Court ruling in Smith’s favor will carve out a little more legal space for Smith’s white Christian nationalism (that is what the Christofascists she’s fronting for, the Alliance Defending Freedom, are really after). But practically, it shouldn’t leave any customers disappointed, because, seriously, if you want a quality website celebrating your gay wedding, or any wedding, why would you buy an inferior artistic product from a bigot more concerned with promoting her own agenda than giving voice to your joy?

16 Comments

  1. Donald Pay 2022-12-05 21:12

    The question I have is this: is Ms. Smith a Christian? Yeah, probably, but she left Jesus out on the street with whatever people she wants to exclude. Jesus didn’t exclude anyone. Jesus never puffed himself up as some artist who would use his artistry as an excuse to refuse to help someone. Jesus was in the business of being everyone’s helper. Some may have needed a miracle cure. Some may have needed a friend to talk to. He did what he could to help. He didn’t care about what the particulars of your sin were. I’m not a Christian because Christians don’t follow Jesus. They puff themselves up to make it seem like they do, but they are actually enemies of Jesus. This woman wants to hide behind some Supreme Court ruling as a way to deny Jesus and all that he stood for. I don’t understand people like this woman. What is wrong with her? She’s a Christian, not someone who follows Jesus.

  2. Arlo Blundt 2022-12-05 22:10

    Donald is correct, of course….read your Bible.

  3. P. Aitch 2022-12-05 22:41

    A website designer isn’t an artist, per se. A website designer is a tool used by artists. This case is a rehash copycat of the Colorado wedding cake baker who wouldn’t serve gays or lesbians or queers or transexuals or anybody he didn’t agree with. His Masterpiece Bakery won a partial supreme court ruling on religious grounds but was indicted and convicted under the Colorado Anti-discrimination Act, which the Supreme Court declined to address.

  4. John 2022-12-05 22:47

    Amazing the formerly supreme court can waste public time on a case with no harm, no victim. It’s as if we’re paying the justices to contemplate their bellybutton lint.

  5. All Mammal 2022-12-05 23:10

    SCOTUS is really slumming. The Grand Gateway Hotel could even get an affirmative ruling based on the outcome of this backwards case. Ms. Smith and Ms. Uhre should get all the attention they crave spouting balderdash, followed by their businesses promptly going belly up.

    The more I observe Christians, the more I am convinced they have no idea they have been duped into worshipping the devil. Cmon, a guy standing up on a pulpit, wearing an onion hat, speaking in tongues, soliciting dying and poor people’s last cent, abusing children, eating flesh and drinking blood, having congregations kneel to them and kiss their pinkie ring, convincing the lost and afraid they can be worthy of love if they give their soul to a literal zombie who died but emerged from a tomb..? I mean… seems sort of like a trick evil would pull. I have known pure and good people who happen to be extremely faithful Christians and Muslims and Jews. However, too many religious people put energy into proclaiming their faith, instead of putting the message into action. Are iconoclasts bad?

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-12-06 04:56

    P, I am inclined to agree that websites are as much art as wedding cakes, and that Smith is as much of an “artist” as Paul TenHaken. I wonder if the Court will analyze her status as an artist and whether that claimed status will play any pivotal role in the Constitutional analysis.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-12-06 04:58

    Donald, sure, Jesus was an artist… a B.S. artist! ;-)

    Or maybe he was a street artist, offering parables and prestidigitation. You are certainly correct that he offered his artistic wares to all customers, without discrimination.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-12-06 05:09

    No harm, John, no victim, and likely no need for litigation. Smith is just exercising the Christian persecution complex and aiding the drive for white Christian nationalism.

    Smith seems to have a pretty easy path to skirting the public accommodations law. She simply needs to say that she is not discriminating against a protected class of people but against specific class of messages, statements that go against her values. An analogy: I can’t refuse to offer advertising services to Christians. But I can refuse to post an ad shouting, “Exterminate the Muslims!” Refusing to post such an ad is perfectly within my rights as a business owner, as long as I refuse to post the ad regardless of whether the ad buyer is Christian, Jewish, or atheist.

  9. Nick Nemec 2022-12-06 06:34

    She isn’t an artist, she is a website designer reusing overused clip art, a cut and paste hack job.

  10. P. Aitch 2022-12-06 09:47

    NYTimes : The core issue in the case: Is Smith discriminating against gay people or is she refusing to support same-sex marriage in any way? The answer is the difference between a case more about nondiscrimination laws or one more about free speech rights.

    The problem for Smith’s supporters is that a similar free speech argument could be used to allow other kinds of discrimination. A white wedding photographer who refuses to serve Black or mixed-race couples could say that they are against interracial marriage. A Black videographer could do the same to white or mixed couples. Or a band could turn away couples with disabilities because of eugenic views.

    At yesterday’s hearings, the conservative justices especially struggled with the risk of a ruling that allows other kinds of discrimination. No clear solution emerged on how to draw the line. “It’s genuinely a difficult problem for them,” Adam told me.

  11. larry kurtz 2022-12-06 11:01

    Airbnb hides the photos of guests until they book so we try to screen for Trumpers during inquiries and haven’t always been successful.

  12. Eve Fisher 2022-12-06 13:01

    Let’s not forget the real reason Ms. Smith filed her lawsuit and has pursued it, despite any actual experiences of gays desiring her services: it gives her a lot of free publicity. Because if anyone thinks she’s actually financed this whole lawsuit herself, I can assure you, she’s got someone paying the bills. Probably one of SCOTUS Alito or Barrett’s chums. It’s not about beliefs, it’s about future profit. Which makes it even more despicable.

  13. bearcreekbat 2022-12-06 13:50

    I tend to agree with Eve – follow the money. Smells alot like just another grift to me, especially considering Cory’s observation that “She simply needs to say that she is not discriminating against a protected class of people but against specific class of messages, statements that go against her values.”

  14. e platypus onion 2022-12-06 14:49

    Ban and burn the holy bibble as it doesn’t not conform to my flying spahgetti monster deeply held beliefs.

  15. John 2022-12-08 07:38

    HA! The christian Taliban dog caught the car . . . and . . . doubles down on the christian faux persecution complex.

    “A restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, refused to host a private event for a conservative Christian organization over the group’s position on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. 
    The restaurant, Metzger Bar and Butchery, called itself an “inclusive” establishment that has rarely refused service to willing patrons, but said it denied service to the group in an effort to protect its staff, many of whom are women or members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

    One has to now wonder how the un-Supreme Court will address that pesky public accommodation law. Consider that this Court will twist itself into a pretzel favoring what ever is the christian flavor of the day.
    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/metzger-restaurant-cancels-reservation-for-christian-family-foundation/

  16. All Mammal 2022-12-08 08:54

    John- good for Metzger Bar and Butchery. I love that they protect their staff. Objectively, they have a total right to refuse service to anyone. All bars post that sign. Not all wedding web page creators have a similar visible disclaimer. Besides, who in the heck has a web page made for their wedding? Strange.

    I also like that Mr. Kurtz screens trumpers. Maybe post your right to refuse lodging to anyone for liability. It is hard to tell even with pictures who those trumpers are when they’re not observably inbred.

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