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Justices Spar in Latest Clash          12/06 06:15

   The Supreme Court 's conservative majority sounded sympathetic Monday to a 
Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for gay 
couples, the latest collision of religion and gay rights to land at the high 
court.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court 's conservative majority sounded 
sympathetic Monday to a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing 
wedding websites for gay couples, the latest collision of religion and gay 
rights to land at the high court.

   The designer and her supporters say that ruling against her would force 
artists -- from painters and photographers to writers and musicians -- to do 
work that is against their beliefs. Her opponents, meanwhile, say that if she 
wins, a range of businesses will be able to discriminate, refusing to serve 
Black, Jewish or Muslim customers, interracial or interfaith couples or 
immigrants.

   Over more than two hours of spirited arguments, the justices repeatedly 
tested out what ruling for the designer could mean, using detailed and 
sometimes colorful hypothetical scenarios. Those included a Black Santa asked 
to take a picture with a child dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, a photographer 
asked to take pictures for the marital infidelity website Ashley Madison, and 
an invented food business called "Grandma Helen's Protestant Provisions."

   The case comes at a time when the court is dominated 6-3 by conservatives 
and follows a series of cases in which the justices have sided with religious 
plaintiffs. Across the street from the court, meanwhile, lawmakers in Congress 
are finalizing what would be a landmark bill protecting same-sex marriage, 
legislation prompted by a different high court case from earlier this year.

   During arguments Monday the court's three liberal justices expressed 
concerns about ruling for website designer and graphic artist Lorie Smith while 
conservatives suggested support for her.

   Justice Neil Gorsuch, one of three high court appointees of former President 
Donald Trump, described Smith as "an individual who says she will sell and does 
sell to everyone, all manner of websites, (but) that she won't sell a website 
that requires her to express a view about marriage that she finds offensive."

   Smith, who is based in Colorado, doesn't currently create wedding websites. 
She wants to but says her Christian faith prevents her from creating websites 
celebrating same-sex marriages.

   Colorado, like most other states, has what's called a public accommodation 
law that says if Smith offers wedding websites to the public, she must provide 
them to all customers. Businesses that violate the law can be fined, among 
other things.

   Smith says the law violates her First Amendment rights. The state disagrees.

   A looming question during Monday's arguments: At what point does an 
objection to serving someone cross the legal line?

   Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, one of the court's three liberals, asked 
whether a photography store in a shopping mall could refuse to take pictures of 
Black people on Santa's lap.

   "Their policy is that only white children can be photographed with Santa in 
this way, because that's how they view the scenes with Santa that they're 
trying to depict," said Jackson, one of the court's two Black justices.

   Jackson's fellow liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said if the court rules for 
Smith, it would be the first time the justices would say that a "commercial 
business open to the public, serving the public, that it could refuse to serve 
a customer based on race, sex, religion or sexual orientation."

   Sotomayor repeatedly pressed Smith's lawyer on what business owners could 
refuse to do. "How about people who don't believe in interracial marriage? Or 
about people who don't believe that disabled people should get married? Where's 
the line?" Sotomayor asked.

   But conservative Justice Samuel Alito, who seemed to favor Smith, asked 
whether it's "fair to equate opposition to same-sex marriage to opposition to 
interracial marriage." And he pointed to language in the court's 2015 opinion 
declaring a nationwide right to same-sex marriage about "honorable people who 
object to same-sex marriage."

   Alito was also the justice who asked whether a Black person dressed as Santa 
could refuse to take a picture with a child dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. 
Eric Olson, arguing on behalf of Colorado, responded "No," because Ku Klux Klan 
outfits wouldn't be protected under public accommodation laws.

   Justice Elena Kagan added that Olson's response wasn't based on the race of 
the child wearing the outfit. In an awkward moment, Alito responded: "You do 
see a lot of Black children in Ku Klux Klan outfits, right? ... All the time."

   The case is the second in which the court has wrestled with a case involving 
a Christian business owner who doesn't want to provide a service for a same-sex 
wedding. Five years ago, the justices heard a different challenge involving 
Colorado's law and a baker, Jack Phillips, who objected to designing a wedding 
cake for a gay couple. That case ended with a limited decision and set up a 
return of the issue to the high court. Smith's lawyer, Kristen Waggoner of the 
Alliance Defending Freedom, also represented Phillips.

   Smith's opponents include the Biden administration, the American Civil 
Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Twenty mostly 
liberal states, including California and New York, are supporting Colorado, 
while 20 other mostly Republican states are supporting Smith.

   White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to weigh in on the 
case specifically following oral arguments Monday but said the "administration 
believes that every person, no matter their sex, race, religion or who they 
love, should have an equal access to society."

   The White House is currently awaiting final passage in Congress of the bill 
protecting same-sex and interracial marriage. It gained momentum following the 
Supreme Court's decision earlier this year to end constitutional protections 
for abortion. That decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling prompted 
questions about whether the court -- now that it is more conservative -- might 
also overturn its decision declaring a nationwide right to same-sex marriage. 
Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly said that decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, 
should be reconsidered.

   During arguments at the court Monday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked 
Waggoner, Smith's lawyer, about what would happen if the court sides with her. 
And he pointed to a section of her written submission to the high court where 
she said Smith as an artist is different from other business people including 
hairstylists, landscapers, plumbers, caterers, tailors, jewelers and 
restaurants that do not generally communicate a message through their work.

   If she wins, Waggoner said, she might bring similar cases on behalf of 
others whose work involves creative inspiration. But, she said, "I won't be 
coming back with a caterer."

 
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