A Virginia photographer has joined the growing number of Christian business owners, churches and ministries challenging the Virginia Values Act.
The law, which went into effect July 1, added sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing nondiscrimination law.
For decades, Bob Updegrove has used his photography skills to capture special events. He began by photographing school and youth group events, and now that those students have grown up, he’s photographing their weddings. But under the Virginia Values Act, if Updegrove photographs weddings between one man and one woman, he must also photograph same-sex weddings. The law also forbids him from posting his Biblical views of marriage to his own website.
In fact, if Updegrove declines to participate in a same-sex ceremony, or explains his beliefs about marriage on his website, he faces initial fines of up to $50,000 and then $100,000 per additional violation, says Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the religious liberty law firm representing Updegrove.
“My relationship with God and my relationship with photography have been inseparable,” Updegrove explained. “Over these past 40 years I have photographed and worked with thousands of people from all walks of life. I serve customers no matter who they are. But the government oversteps when it attempts to force me to promote views that I disagree with.”
Updegrove filed a lawsuit in late September against Mark Herring, Virginia’s attorney general, in an effort to ensure that he can continue operating his business in a way that is consistent with his faith.
On Jan. 25, Updegrove’s attorneys went before the Eastern District Court of Virginia to ask that the Virginia Values Act not be enforced while the suit proceeds. The court has not yet published its opinion.
“Photographers, like all other Americans, should be free to peacefully live, work and create art that’s consistent with their deeply held beliefs—without the fear of government punishment,” Jonathan Scruggs, director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives, said. “Because of the state’s interpretation of its law, photographers like Bob face an impossible choice: Violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against their faith, or close down.
“Virginia has a long and important history of protecting constitutional freedoms,” Scruggs added. “This kind of government hostility toward people of faith has no place in a free society.”
Above: Bob Updegrove
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom