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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.


Emilee Carpenter

NY photographer challenges state law that threatens steep fines, jail time for artists

Law forces promotion of same-sex wedding ceremonies, forbids communicating certain views on marriage
Wednesday, Apr 7, 2021

(Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a photographer and blogger filed suit in federal court Tuesday against New York state and county officials. The lawsuit challenges state laws that force 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.

One of the challenged laws also forbids Emilee and her business, Emilee Carpenter, LLC, from publicly explaining on her studio’s own website or social media her religious reasons for only celebrating wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman. New York forbids such communications because they could make potential customers feel “unwelcome, objectionable or not accepted, desired, or solicited.”

“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.”

Since March, Carpenter has received at least seven requests to create content celebrating same-sex weddings. In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of filmmakers and artists, respectively, who brought similar challenges against laws like New York’s. ADF attorneys are also asking the court to halt New York from enforcing its laws against Carpenter and her business while her lawsuit proceeds.

“New York is attempting to compel Emilee to speak a message she disagrees with and not express her religious views on marriage,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives. “But the government cannot coerce artists to create messages against their will and intimidate them into silence just because it disagrees with their beliefs.”

“The state shouldn’t be able to silence or punish me for living out my convictions,” said Carpenter. “I serve clients from all backgrounds, but the government is attempting to tell me what to do, what to say, and what to create based on its beliefs, not mine. Free speech protects everyone. Photographers and other artists should be able to choose the stories they tell.”

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Emilee Carpenter Photography v. James, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.
 

  • Pronunciation guide: Neihart (NIGH-hart)


Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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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. Just before joining ADF, Neihart served as a law clerk to Judge Wiley Y. Daniel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. Neihart 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 director of the Center for Conscience Initiatives with Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, Scruggs leads the team defending the constitutionally protected freedom of creative professionals to live out their faith in business and professional life without being subjected to government coercion, discrimination, or punishment. 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 school, in their business, 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 multiple federal district and appellate courts.