Movsesian on 303 Creative

At First Things today, I report on last week’s oral argument in 303 Creative, the latest wedding vendor case to reach the Supreme Court–this time involving a web designer who does not wish to provide services for same-sex weddings. 303 Creative, like most such cases, presents a conflict between free speech, including religiously-motivated speech, and equality in the marketplace. Based on last week’s argument, I argue, it looks like speech will prevail. Here’s an excerpt:

Resolving [the web designer’s] claim requires the Court to answer a basic, conceptual question under the Court’s precedents: As applied to Smith’s web design business, does CADA regulate speech or conduct? If the former, CADA would have to satisfy a test known as “strict scrutiny.” Colorado would have to show that prosecuting Smith was “necessary” to promote a “compelling” state interest. By contrast, if the law regulates conduct and only incidentally affects speech, Colorado would have to satisfy a more lenient test known as the O’Brien standard. Colorado would have to show only that CADA “furthered” an “important” or “substantial” state interest unrelated to the suppression of speech.

At last week’s argument, Colorado’s lawyer argued that CADA is directed principally at conduct. Were Colorado to prosecute Smith, he explained, it would be because Smith had discriminated against customers based on sexual orientation, not because she expressed an opinion on same-sex marriage. Smith could not be required to praise same-sex marriage expressly—but she would have to design websites for all comers. Appearing on behalf of the Biden Administration as amicus curiae, Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher agreed. Declining categorically to design websites for same-sex weddings, he told the justices, would be “a form of status-based discrimination properly within the scope of public accommodations laws.”

This argument appeared to persuade progressives like Justice Sonia Sotomayor—but not the Court’s conservatives. For example, Justice Neil Gorsuch stressed that Smith had said repeatedly that she would “serve everyone,” straight, gay, or transgender, and would decline to design websites for same-sex weddings no matter who requested them. She objected to expressing a message with which she disagreed, not to serving customers of different sexual identities. When it came to designing wedding websites, Gorsuch emphasized, “the question” for Smith wasn’t “who,” but “what.”

You can read the whole thing here.

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What Does the Methodist Divide Mean?

Logo of the United Methodist Church

In the past couple of decades, American Protestant churches have suffered divisions on the question of homosexuality, and same-sex marriage in particular. Conservative congregations and dioceses have seceded from progressive national bodies, which has led, in some cases, to acrimonious, high-profile litigation over church finances and property. For lawyers and scholars who study law-and-religion, these disputes raise complicated and interesting legal questions. For the litigants, they are often emotional and painful conflicts–divorces, really–that leave everyone, winners and losers, worse off.

It seems that the United Methodist Church (UMC), America’s second-largest Protestant denomination, will not be able to avoid a split over LGBT issues. The Methodists may, however, avoid litigation. This week, a group of church leaders announced a plan for the dissolution of the worldwide church that would allow conservative congregations and conferences to leave the main body and join a new conservative denomination. Under the proposal, the UMC would give the new denomination $25 million and allow departing congregations to keep their property, and departing clergy, their pensions. The UMC seems likely to approve the plan at its next general conference in May.

Observers believe that most American Methodist congregations, which support same-sex marriage, will stick with the main body. But the UMC is a global entity, and, worldwide, the opposite may be the case. In a post at Juicy Ecumenism, Mark Tooley observes that the majority of Methodists today live in Africa, where the church is growing. African Methodists are quite conservative on LGBT and other issues. As a global matter, then, the large majority of Methodists may end up in the new, conservative denomination. If that is the case, Methodism will reflect the same dynamic that exists in Christianity worldwide: growth in conservative churches in the developing world, decline in progressive churches in the developed world. Another sign that Christianity’s center of gravity may be shifting from the global North to the global South.

Legal Spirits Episode 016: The New Wedding Vendor Cases

In this episode, we discuss recent court rulings in favor of wedding vendors who decline, from religious conviction, to provide services for same-sex weddings. After years of losing such cases, vendors like Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Phoenix’s Brush & Nib Studio (above) have won notable victories in the lower courts. We ask whether these victories reflect the changing membership of the judiciary–especially given the new Trump appointees to the federal appeals courts–and how the Supreme Court is likely to respond to them. Listen in!

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