A recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of a Christian web designer who refused to work on same-sex wedding projects. And while many Christians consider this decision a victory for religious freedom, the case for free artistic expression may go far beyond the scope of this singular decision.
The general motivation for those of us who make art is that we are primarily led by inspiration. Or, at the very least, it is about being led by a topic or subject that interests us. However, the light and luster of a project is greatly diminished when we do not feel anything when looking at the prospect of a project. This is how I imagine Lorie Smith, owner of 303 Creative LLC, felt about the prospect of making a website for a same-sex wedding.
For me, I exclusively work on creative projects that I believe in. Projects must excite me and make me want to explore the subject. In my first novel, Project: Sleepless Dream, I wanted to explore the logical end to nuclear weapons, which resulted in creating what I refer to as “human nuclears”: human beings who have been dosed with plutonium and Serplexifan (a hypothetical drug) and subsequently are detonatable, like a nuclear bomb.
The concept of “human nuclears” held my attention due to my interest in pharmaceutical abuse, top-secret government projects (such as MKUltra and Project Artichoke), and the possibility of the human race being obliterated by heightened political tensions resulting in nuclear warfare. But this book only got written because I was heavily interested in the material; it did not happen because someone told me I had to write about it. I do not think I would want to write a romance novel, even if someone paid me to do so. Romance novels simply do not inspire me.
Now, that is not to say people do not use their creative abilities to work on projects that do not inspire them. I believe this is the case with ghostwriters. A ghostwriter is someone who has been financially compensated to write a novel, journalistic piece, or speech that will be credited to someone else. A prominent author who often employs a ghostwriter in much of his work is James Patterson, who happens to have the most books of any writer on The New York Times bestseller list.
However, there is a marked difference between a ghostwriter and the web designer who refused to take part in same-sex wedding projects. Most ghostwriters are, functionally, freelance writers, who pick and choose projects. But the web designer, leading up to the Supreme Court decision, feared that a Colorado law would compel her to make a website she did not want to. Luckily, it worked out for her.
But there is nuance to this Supreme Court case that is being overlooked. For example, as someone who has tattoos, I can easily imagine a scenario where a Christian would want to get a cross tattoo but is quickly turned away by an artist who does not subscribe to a Christian worldview. Would this be considered discrimination? And the reverse could easily be asked of a situation involving a Christian tattoo artist not wanting to tattoo a pentagram.
There is significant gray area, too: Whether it’s the artist’s interests, beliefs, or even aesthetics, there are a myriad of legitimate reasons why a creative may want to turn down a project. Would one of these less clear-cut cases have made it to the Supreme Court? It is an interesting question and perhaps one that we should consider moving forward.
Above all else, though, creatives must retain the freedom to create what they wish when they wish. If there is an idea proposed to them, they should reserve the right to turn it down. The last thing I would want is for a publisher to suggest that I rework a story to end in a way I do not want it to or revise in such a way that would sacrifice the message I am trying to communicate.
In a world run amok with creatives constantly diminishing their work for sociopolitical reasons (in both film and literature), my wish is for artists to only make what they believe in, what motivates them, and what inspires them. Anything else is settling for something inferior.