(WASHINGTON) –  PEN America, in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling today in 303 Creative v. Elenis, expressed concern that the decision overlooks the risk of legitimizing unlawful discrimination in the name of religious freedom.

 The Supreme Court decided that Colorado’s public accommodations statute violates the First Amendment to the extent that it would compel business owners to produce speech they do not agree with. PEN America expressed concern about the decision’s impact on free expression.

This was not a case in which the state censored or compelled artists, graphic designers, or creators’ work. Rather, the case dealt only with the question of whether businesses that decide to open their doors to the general public can be required to offer such services to everyone, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristic.

The Court’s decision today created an exception to the rule for some businesses that choose to discriminate against people on the basis of their protected characteristics, where such discrimination is grounded in business owners’ religious beliefs. That result was not compelled by the First Amendment, though the decision reaches that conclusion.

“As a free expression organization, PEN America stands against efforts to censor speakers on the basis of viewpoint or to compel speech. When a business entity offering a public accommodation refuses to provide creative services – or any services – based on discriminatory animus, that refusal is unacceptable.” said KateRuane, director, Sy Syms U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America,  “For such an entity to deny service to a potential customer for religious, political, or ideological reasons may be within their rights.  But when such a refusal has a discriminatory impact on a particular class it is vital for the court to ensure that  discriminatory animus is not at work.  We are concerned that today’s decision falls short of the bar, overlooking the risk of legitimizing unlawful discrimination in the name of religious freedom.”  

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org