A Christian professional photographer filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the state of New York, seeking to overturn a law that could result in her being jailed for up to a year and fined $100,000 if she does not work same-sex weddings.
The law in question prohibits "unlawful discriminatory practices" because of sexual orientation in "any place of public accommodation." The law does not limit the definition of public accommodation to a physical space and includes "retail … establishments dealing with goods or services of any kind," according to the lawsuit.
Photographer Emilee Carpenter owns a photography business that offers several services and specializes in wedding photographs. She also is a Christian who believes in the biblical definition of marriage.
"Emilee believes that God designed marriage as a gift for people of all faiths, races, and backgrounds, to reflect the unity and diversity seen in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and to point people to Jesus' sacrificial and redemptive love for His Church," the suit says. "Emilee celebrates engagements and marriages between one man and one woman through what she photographs, participates in, and posts about in order to share God's design for marriage with her clients and the public consistent with her beliefs."
Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on her behalf, alleging the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, including her freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.
"Just as the government cannot compel a lesbian baker to create a cake condemning same-sex marriage or an atheist playwright to wax positively about God, New York cannot force Emilee to convey messages she objects to," the suit says.
The law would force Carpenter to "celebrate same-sex engagements or weddings" and "promote messages" that "violate her religious beliefs or require her to participate in religious ceremonies that violate her religious beliefs," the suit says. The law also restricts what she can say on her website about her services, according to the suit.
The suit explicitly says Carpenter will work with LGBT individuals and LGBT-owned businesses to create "branding photographs." But her religious beliefs prohibit her from photographing same-sex weddings, the suit says.
"Creative professionals like Emilee should have the freedom to create art consistent with their beliefs without fear of the government closing their business or throwing them in jail," said ADF legal counsel Bryan Neihart. "Emilee serves all people; she just cannot promote messages which contradict her religious beliefs about any topic, including marriage. The government cannot treat some people worse than others based on their religious views."
In 2019, the U.S. Eighth Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court each sided with artists in similar cases.
Photo courtesy: Ailbhe Flynn/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.