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Emilee Carpenter Photography v. James

Description:  New York state law forces photographer and blogger Emilee Carpenter to create photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex weddings if she does so for weddings between one man and one woman. Penalties for violating the law include fines of up to $100,000, a revoked business license, and up to a year in jail.

Monday, Jul 17, 2023

CINCINNATI and NEW YORK – Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis that upheld free speech for all, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are asking two federal courts of appeal to affirm the First Amendment rights of two photographers and bloggers they represent in separate cases.

In the first case, Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, ADF attorneys filed a supplemental brief Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit asking it to affirm a lower court order that blocked a Louisville law from forcing photographer and blogger Chelsey Nelson to communicate messages that contradict her beliefs. In the second case, Emilee Carpenter Photography v. James, ADF attorneys filed a supplemental letter brief Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit asking it to allow Emilee Carpenter, a New York photographer and blogger, to create messages consistent with her faith.

“Free speech is for everyone. As the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed in 303 Creative, the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe,” said ADF Legal Counsel Bryan Neihart. “That ruling makes clear that nondiscrimination laws like Louisville’s can remain firmly in place, but the government cannot misuse those laws to compel speech. The U.S. Constitution ensures Lorie Smith, Chelsey Nelson, Emilee Carpenter—and indeed, every American—can speak consistent with her convictions. Now we urge the 6th Circuit and 2nd Circuit to uphold this freedom and follow Supreme Court precedent so that Chelsey and Emilee can speak freely without being threatened by the government with steep fines and penalties.”

Nelson and Carpenter serve everyone, including clients who identify as LGBT. They always determine whether to take on a new project based on the message requested and never the person requesting.

ADF attorneys filed suit on Nelson’s behalf to stop the city of Louisville from threatening her and violating her First Amendment rights by forcing her to create messages about marriage that she does not believe. In August 2022, a federal district court upheld Nelson’s freedom to create photographs and write blogs that align with her religious beliefs.

In Carpenter’s case, ADF attorneys are asking the 2nd Circuit to uphold the photographer’s First Amend­ment rights and reverse a district court’s ruling that concluded the state of New York and a local district attorney can force her to create photographs and blogs inconsistent with her beliefs. New York’s laws threaten Carpenter with fines of up to $100,000, a revoked business license, and up to a year in jail.

ADF attorneys explain in the supplemental brief that the Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative “leaves no doubt that Emilee Carpenter pled plausible free-speech and expressive-association claims. In fact, the decision proves that Emilee deserves injunctive relief for her free-speech claim now.”

  • Pronunciation guide: Neihart (NYE'-hart)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Bryan Neihart

Bryan Neihart serves as legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives. Before joining ADF, Neihart clerked for judges on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado and the Colorado Court of Appeals. He also practiced law with a litigation firm in Denver, Colorado where he primarily represented businesses, insurance companies, and hospitals in both federal and state courts. Neihart worked as a law clerk to Judge David Furman of the Colorado Court of Appeals after graduating from law school. Neihart earned his J.D. from the Sturm College of Law of the University of Denver in 2014, where he was inducted into the Order of the Coif and served as a board member on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. While attending the University of Denver, he also received a M.A. in international human rights from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Neihart obtained his B.A., summa cum laude, in French and international relations from Wheaton College (IL) in 2011. Neihart is a member of the state bars of Arizona and Colorado.


ABOUT Jonathan Scruggs

Jonathan Scruggs serves as senior counsel and vice president of litigation strategy and the Center for Conscience Initiatives with Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, he identifies new litigation opportunities and develops new strategies for protecting free speech and religious liberty in collaboration with the chief legal counsel and litigation team directors. As the leader for the Center for Conscience Initiatives, Scruggs oversees the litigation team defending the rights of professionals and business owners to live out their faith as well as the litigation efforts to protect equal opportunities for women in athletics. Since joining ADF in 2006, Scruggs has worked on and prevailed in a variety of cases that protect the right of people to freely express their faith in their business, at school, and in the public square. He earned his J.D. at Harvard Law School and is admitted to practice in the states of Arizona and Tennessee. Scruggs is also admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal district and appellate courts.