Photographer Challenges New York Law Barring Faith Objections to Working Gay Weddings

April 8, 2021 Updated: April 8, 2021

A New York photographer represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is challenging in federal court state laws that force her to photograph gay weddings despite her religious objections to doing so.

One of the laws being challenged by Rochester artistic wedding photographer Emilee Carpenter in the U.S. District Court for Western New York also bars her from explaining on her business website why working at same-sex ceremonies violates her deepest Christian beliefs.

The ADF is an Arizona-based public interest law firm that specializes in religious freedom and other First Amendment liberties litigation. Attorneys for the ADF have argued and won a dozen Supreme Court decisions in recent years, including 2018’s landmark Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision that upheld the right of cake decorator Jack Phillips to decline work for same-sex ceremonies.

Carpenter’s claims are similar to those of Phillips in the Colorado case, according to the ADF attorneys. Attorneys from ADF are also representing photographers and artists in similar cases in Kentucky, Colorado, and Virginia.

“Her faith and eye for beauty shape her photography, from first click to final edit. And just like other artists, Emilee decides whether to create based on what her artwork conveys, not who asks for it,” Carpenter’s suit states.

“That means Emilee cannot create some artwork for anyone — like photographs that flout her artistic style, celebrate obscenity, or demean others. She likewise cannot promote certain views on marriage. New York finds this last type of editorial freedom too close-minded.”

“These laws do not simply dictate what she does; they dictate what she says. Emilee is already willing to work with clients no matter who they are, including those in the LGBT community,” according to the suit.

“But not satisfied with equal treatment, New York officials demand ideological purity, that Emilee violate her conscience by professing the state’s approved view about marriage.

“Specifically, New York laws require Emilee to create photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex marriage because she creates photographs and blogs celebrating opposite-sex marriage. The laws also prohibit Emilee from adopting an editorial policy consistent with her beliefs about marriage.

“And the laws even make it illegal for Emilee to post statements on her business’s own website explaining her religious views on marriage or her reasons for only creating this wedding content.”

Violation of the New York laws being challenged carries with them unlimited liability against Carpenter personally and against her business for damages, fines of up to $100,000, loss of her business license, and up to a year in jail.

Bryan Neihart, ADF legal counsel for the Carpenter suit, told The Epoch Times on April 8 that New York’s law that prevents the photographer from explaining on her business’s website why her faith prevents her from shooting gay ceremonies is unusually aggressive.

“It’s definitely a unique feature about New York’s law, that it not only compels her to say things that she can’t say because of her religious beliefs, but also restricts her from saying anything,” Neihart responded.

Asked if any other states have similar statutes, Neihart said: “Some states do and some municipalities do, it depends on the jurisdiction, but I think New York’s law is especially aggressive in that it has this really vague language that you can’t make anyone feel ‘unwelcome.’ It’s unclear how far that could apply, and it gives government officials discretion to apply it as far as they want to.”

Carpenter, just in the month of March, received six requests for her services celebrating gay weddings, according to an ADF statement announcing the suit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in 2019 in favor of filmmakers and artists who brought similar challenges to laws much like those of New York.

The ADF attorneys are asking the federal court to halt New York officials from enforcing the laws being challenged while Carpenter’s litigation proceeds through the judicial system.

In her suit, Carpenter’s attorneys claim the First and 14th Amendments guarantee her right to express her religious views and to determine the parameters of her artistic business.

“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,” according to the suit.

“Emilee brings this lawsuit to protect her right and everyone’s freedom (even those who disagree with her) to speak and live out their core convictions. Because in our diverse and pluralistic country, the solution to disagreement is more speech by diverse speakers, not compelled ideological uniformity by government bureaucrats,” the suit stated.

Congressional correspondent Mark Tapscott may be reached at mark.tapscott@epochtimes.nyc.