Federal Court Dismisses Photographer’s Religious Liberty Case

Federal Court Dismisses Photographer’s Religious Liberty Case

On Dec. 13, a federal court dismissed New York-based photographer and blogger Emilee Carpenter’s case against the state’s attorney general, stating that Carpenter “fails to state a claim for relief.”

Carpenter, a devout Christian, “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.

In April, Carpenter filed suit in a pre-enforcement challenge to New York’s public accommodation laws, which require her to service and celebrate same-sex weddings despite her religious objections.

According to the suit, Carpenter had received at least seven requests to photograph same-sex weddings in the last year. She did not respond to the requests. She feared that if she were to formally decline and explain that she only creates work that is consistent with her faith, the likelihood that she would be investigated or prosecuted under New York’s accommodation laws would increase.

Under the laws, Carpenter is also forbidden from posting her religious reasons for only celebrating wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman on her own website or social media. Such communications could make potential customers feel “unwelcome, objectionable or not accepted, desired or solicited,” New York State’s Human Rights Law says.

In his Dec. 13 decision, U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci, Jr. stated that “even if the accommodation clause compels speech or expressive association in a manner that implicates [Carpenter’s] free-speech and free-association interests, the provision survives strict scrutiny.”

“Strict scrutiny” is a legal test that courts use to determine whether a law is constitutional. To pass strict scrutiny, the legislature must have passed the law to further a “compelling governmental interest,” and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve that interest.

Penalties for violating New York’s accommodation laws include fines of up to $100,000, a revoked business license and up to a year in jail.

Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty law firm representing Carpenter, has already announced plans to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

“The court’s decision continues down a dangerous path of the government compelling artists to speak messages that violate their religious beliefs—or imposing steep fines, closing their businesses or throwing them in jail,” ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said. “Artists like Emilee … are protected under the Constitution to freely live and work according to their religious beliefs.”

Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

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