Is the Supreme Court case involving a bigoted Christian web designer built on a lie?
It wouldn't be the first time conservative Christians lied to further their legal agenda
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On Friday, the Supreme Court will issue its decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis. That’s the case in which a conservative Christian web designer from Colorado (Lorie Smith) argues she shouldn’t be forced by the state’s anti-discrimination laws to have to make a wedding website for same-sex couples.
In order for her case to get through the legal jungle, however, this couldn’t just be hypothetical. There needed to be a same-sex couple that asked her to design a wedding website for them, putting her in this legal bind.
In September of 2017, the right-wing legal group Alliance Defending Freedom insisted this wasn’t hypothetical at all: Smith had received exactly such a request from a same-sex couple, “Stewart” and “Mike.”
But now, in a remarkable bit of reporting from Melissa Gira Grant at The New Republic, the “Stewart” whose name and contact information was included in legal filings insists he never made that request at all.
Yes, that was his name, phone number, email address, and website on the inquiry form. But he never sent this form, he said, and at the time it was sent, he was married to a woman. “If somebody’s pulled my information, as some kind of supporting information or documentation, somebody’s falsified that,” Stewart explained…
“I wouldn’t want anybody to … make me a wedding website?” he continued, sounding a bit puzzled but good-natured about the whole thing. “I’m married, I have a child—I’m not really sure where that came from? But somebody’s using false information in a Supreme Court filing document.”
It didn’t make sense to him, he told me later via text message. Why would a web designer—as the website the inquiry referenced as his own made clear that he was—living in San Francisco, seek to hire someone in another state who has never built a wedding website, let alone a website for a same-sex wedding, to build his wedding website?
As Grant points out, it’s possible Stewart forgot his own request from a decade ago or is pulling some “elaborate prank,” but it’s also very possible (if not extremely likely) that the request was just pulled put of thin air by the Christians filing this lawsuit in order to make sure the case wouldn’t be thrown out.
It wouldn’t be the only way this lawsuit is bogus. As many outlets have reported before, Smith hadn’t designed wedding websites at all before making it the centerpiece of her case. Her company’s website didn’t even have any Christian messaging on it six months before the lawsuit was filed but that changed quickly afterwards. The supposed inquiry from “Stewart” and “Mike” arrived less than a day after the lawsuit was filed (potentially to fix the glaring hole in her argument).
The bottom line is that it appears conservative legal minds manufactured details to strengthen their case because the facts themselves didn’t cut it.
And now the Supreme Court could rule in favor of Christians who believe their religious bigotry should override anti-discrimination laws, a decision that could have far-reaching consequences. The potentially fake inquiry that launched this lawsuit wouldn’t even matter anymore.
We’ve seen the same kind of people do this before.
When the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Kennedy v. Bremerton, in favor of a Christian football coach who wanted to pray at midfield after games, Justice Neil Gorsuch opened his majority opinion with this line: “Joseph Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach because he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet prayer of thanks.”
Those were lies, too. He didn’t lose his job; he quit. And there was nothing “quiet” about prayers he purposely staged for maximal exposure. (In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor literally included a picture of the giant spectacle Kennedy’s prayers became.) Furthermore, Gorsuch argued no one was coerced into joining the prayers, even though a brief filed with the Supreme Court included examples of that coercion taking place.
The only way the conservative justices could rule in favor of Kennedy was by twisting the facts of the case to suit their agenda. Kennedy and his lawyers from the right-wing legal group First Liberty were more than happy to play along with the lies. Even mainstream news outlets fell for them.
Why does this happen? Because reality doesn’t overlap with the Christian Persecution Complex. Christians simply aren’t persecuted under the law in the U.S.—certainly no more than any other religious group—so when they want to claim they’re victims, they have to make shit up to tell that story. (If they actually were being discriminated against, you can bet church/state separation groups would be on their side.)
One interested side note: In his excellent book Flagrant Conduct, Dale Carpenter wrote about Lawrence v. Texas, the case that eventually overturned Texas’ anti-sodomy laws. That case was built on the premise that two gay men who were having sex in a private home were charged with a criminal offense. It’s true that a police officer charged them with that offense, but as Carpenter found out during the course of his reporting, it’s not at all clear that the two men were actually having sex. (A New Yorker review of the book framed it this way: “The case that affirmed the right of gay couples to have consensual sex in private spaces seems to have involved two men who were neither a couple nor having sex.”
None of this is unusual. There are presumably many stories of Supreme Court decisions whose underlying facts become lost as the broader legal challenges play out. But in Lawrence, the civil rights attorneys didn’t make up any facts; the two gay men were indeed charged with a crime.
In Bremerton and 303 Creative, however, the Christian plaintiffs appear to be in on the lies. They’re cosplaying fictional versions of themselves in order to be seen as martyrs.
The Supreme Court already rewarded Joe Kennedy for his lies. Tomorrow, they may do the same for Lorie Smith, all in an effort to give Christians immunity against generally applicable anti-discrimination laws.
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