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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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