New York photographer and blogger Emilee Carpenter has sued state and county officials in a challenge to state laws that force her to service and celebrate same-sex weddings despite her religious objections.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty law firm representing Carpenter, penalties for violating such laws include fines of up to $100,000, a revoked business license and up to a year in jail. Since March, Carpenter has received at least seven requests to create content celebrating same-sex weddings.
Carpenter is a devout Christian who “believe[s] that marriage is a picture of the Gospel and demonstrates the redemptive love of Jesus Christ.” Her website says that her ultimate goal is to capture and share stories that point people to God’s glory.
“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.”
One of the challenged laws forbids Carpenter 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.”
“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 suit explains that Carpenter would also “not provide wedding photography for certain types of irreverent themed weddings—such as Halloween or vampire-themed weddings—because [she] believes that all wedding ceremonies are inherently religious and solemn events.”
In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of Christian filmmakers and artists, stating state laws forcing them to convey messages incompatible with their religious convictions violated their First Amendment rights.
Carpenter is asking the court for a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop the enforcement of the New York laws that “violate the United States Constitution’s First Amendment protections for speech and press and the Fourteenth Amendment protections for due process.”
“The government cannot treat some people worse than others based on their religious views,” ADF Legal Counsel Bryan Neihar said.