Lewis: Be careful what you wish for
We all have had the experience of wanting something before we thought through the consequences. Once, I recall wanting to return to the days of my youth and buying a manual transmission Mustang GT at a time when my commute to work involved a long, bumper-to-bumper ordeal in the horrible Bay Area traffic. The car was amazing, but a manual transmission was a terrible choice for stop-and-go traffic. The car lasted less than a year.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case involving a Colorado-based website design agency called 303 Creative. They want to make websites for weddings, but the catch is that they only want to do sites for heterosexual couples as the owner is morally opposed to gay marriage. Her argument is that, with a gay wedding website, the web designer might be asked to post verbiage that they morally disagree with. They argue that this constitutes “forced speech” and violates their freedom of speech rights. Colorado lawyers argue that allowing a commercial business to exclude gay marriages violates the state’s anti-discrimination act.
This case is an obvious attempt to establish a precedent that would allow businesses to refuse service to specific groups of people based on differences in moral or religious beliefs. While it may seem innocuous or even righteous to many, if the court allows this to happen, the consequences will be profound and have unintended consequences that proponents likely have not considered.
The ramifications can be seen when you generalize what the court would be approving. It would go something like this: Any website creator or publisher may, at their discretion, refuse service to groups with which they disagree on moral or religious grounds. In effect, this would allow businesses to refuse service to an entire group — in this case, gay couples.
This is not about forcing a business to publish content that is illegal, involves hate speech, or provides false/misleading information. Gay marriage falls into none of these categories. While this particular case involves an evangelical Christian “value,” the court cannot just protect Christian values, so the decision would apply to any “value” an individual might have.
Support Local Journalism
The “free speech” at risk here is not that of the website designer but that of the couple getting married! I’ve had many websites created by others and the content on the site is not the work of the designer, it is what I want to say. Since Twitter, Facebook and the like are, technically, all website creators but not the content creators, this decision would give them the fundamental constitutional right to block any speech they deem “offensive” — to them. If you think that is far-fetched, it is already happening as Twitter, without explanation, recently suspended the accounts of six major journalists.
Laws in Florida and Texas that give their citizens the right to say pretty much whatever they want would have to be immediately struck down. The court would have to mandate consistency and allow website creators the right to refuse business from those they morally disagree with.
With this precedent, any website creator could refuse business to a “group” (gays are the example here but replace “gay” with Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Satanists, or any other group) based on moral value differences. It doesn’t even matter what a specific individual wants to say — the court would simply be saying, you don’t have to do business with gay people.
Let’s reverse this and pretend 303 Creative is a liberal-owned company that doesn’t want to build wedding websites for Trump supporters based on moral objections to Trump’s views. Hopefully, you can see what a slippery slope this is regardless of your political leanings.
The potential exploitation of a ruling in favor of 303 Creative is almost unimaginable. Up to this point, free speech is only limited when it involves hate speech, inciting illegal activity, and limited other cases. If 303 Creative gets its wish then it will, in effect, allow discrimination by any and all “web creators” which includes all social media companies.
Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology last year and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.