At the Intersection of Free Speech and LGBTQ+ Rights
In the afternoon, members of the Hamilton community were invited to join the speakers in interactive dialogue and community-building over cookies and coffee. In the evening, the four panelists gathered side-by-side onstage. The cornerstone of the discussion was the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the case of 303 Creative v. Elenis and its social and legal implications. In a 6-3 ruling, the court found in favor of a website designer, citing that the state of Colorado could not compel her to create work that violated her values — in this case, a refusal to create wedding websites for gay couples based on her belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
Keren, the dean and professor at Southwestern Law School whose article “Separating Church and Market” recognized the legal strategy used in cases similar to 303 Creative before the case reached the Supreme Court, began by acknowledging the difficult subject matter. “I’m not debating the rights tonight. I’m here to protect them,” she said to a burst of applause.
As moderator, Grygiel noted that the Alliance Defending Freedom, the main organization backing 303 Creative, had declined his invitation to participate in the conversation. In the true spirit of Common Ground, however, the panelists did not shy away from contesting one another. Carpenter, professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law and co-author of an amicus brief questioning unconstitutional speech compulsion, pointed out that freedom of speech also entails the freedom to not speak. “Subway calls the people who make their sandwiches ‘sandwich artists,’” responded Olson, who defended civil rights in 303 Creative as the former solicitor general of Colorado. He reminded the audience that expression is as subjective in practice as it is under the law.
The topic of subjectivity led Keren into an impassioned speech on the statuses of living, breathing people in legal cases. “Don’t talk about free speech without the voice in the debate that is really important,” she said, later continuing, “They had faces. They had names.”
Grygiel expressed pleasure that his job became easier and easier as the panelists took it upon themselves to exchange perspectives. Carpenter interrupted Keren to defend the allowance of free speech for topics with which others might disagree. In particular, he took issue with equating expression and conduct, saying, “It’s like apples and oranges.”
“Don’t talk about free speech without the voice in the debate that is really important. They had faces. They had names.”
From there, the panelists explored the broader context of the First Amendment and its interactions with other tenets of the Constitution. The panelists reached a consensus on the recent expansion of free speech and its potential effects on future legal decisions and marginalized social groups.
To end the discussion, Grygiel addressed the Hamilton community. He read from Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in 303 Creative v. Elenis, reminding attendees that they, not just the members of the Supreme Court, imbue the Constitution with meaning. “To all of you young students here, go out and take your shot,” he advised.
His remark opened a brief question-and-answer session. Students wondered about balancing legal decisions with the case’s context, merits, and societal impacts as well as the process by which decisions must apply First Amendment rights equally to both parties in a case.
Common Ground is Hamilton’s multi-format program that helps prepare students for active citizenship. Designed to explore cross-boundary political thought and complex social issues, Common Ground brings respected thought leaders to Hamilton to participate in small classroom dialogues and large event discussions. Topics intertwined with the College’s curriculum are chosen to foster critical thinking and holistic examination of difficult and often contentious national and global policy issues. The College thanks Mary Helen and Robert Morris ’76, P’16,’17; Eve Niquette and Charles Pohl, P’20,’25; and Lori and David Hess ’77 for their generous support of Common Ground.
Expand Your Perspectives
Common Ground is Hamilton’s multi-format program that helps prepare students for active citizenship. Designed to explore cross-boundary political thought and complex social issues, Common Ground brings respected thought leaders to Hamilton to participate in small classroom dialogues and large event discussions.
This collaboration will connect Hamilton’s Common Ground program and Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) University Partnership Program to encourage civil discourse and bring bipartisanship outside the beltway through robust intellectual exchange. Hamilton is the first liberal arts college to partner with BPC.
As algorithms and online platforms come to define our daily lives, how do we navigate the social responsibilities of platforms and our own online freedoms? These were questions addressed at the Common Ground panel on March 27. Guest speakers were Shoshana Weissmann, the digital director of the think tank R Street, and David Brody, the managing attorney of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Digital Justice Initiative. Professor of Government Robert Martin moderated the conversation.