Virginia Wedding Photographer Challenges Attack on Religious Freedom

Virginia Wedding Photographer Challenges Attack on Religious Freedom

On June 30, Chris Herring, a Virginia adventure and wedding photographer and blogger, filed suit in federal court to challenge a state law that went into effect July 1. He argues the newly enacted Virginia Values Act forces him to promote same-sex marriage in defiance of his Christian convictions and threatens his artistic freedom.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Herring contended in court filings that the language of the Virginia law “force[s] [Herring] to do more than serve LGBT clients (which [he] already does). Virginia instead requires [Herring] to promote content he disagrees with—to create and convey photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex weddings because he does so for weddings between a man and a woman.”

Herring drafted a statement to post on his studio’s website explaining why he only celebrates wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman:

“Because of my faith,” the proposed statement reads, “I can only photograph consistent with who I am and what I believe. I can only photograph what celebrates God’s creation and design for the world. I won’t photograph ceremonies that contradict God’s design as something between one man and one woman.”

But even this brief communication is considered “discriminatory” on the basis of sexual orientation in Virginia. According to ADF, Herring could be subject to initial fines of up to $50,000, subsequent fines up to $100,000, and unlimited attorney’s fees and damages.

“So [Herring] faces an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against his faith or close down,” court filings read. “And this was exactly what Virginia officials wanted for those who hold [Herring’s] religious beliefs about marriage. Legislators who passed Virginia’s law called views like [Herring’s] ‘bigotry’ and sought to punish them with ‘unlimited punitive damages’ to remove them from the public square.”

“Artists shouldn’t be censored, fined or forced out of business simply for disagreeing with the government’s preferred views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives. “… No matter one’s views on marriage, we all lose when bureaucrats can force citizens to participate in religious ceremonies they oppose, speak messages they disagree with and stay silent about beliefs they hold dear.”

“It isn’t the state’s job to tell me what I must capture on film or publish on my website,” said Herring. “My religious beliefs influence every aspect of my life, including the stories I tell through my photography. If you’re looking for someone to photograph a red-light district or promote drug tourism, I’m not your guy. Now Virginia is trying to intimidate creative professionals like me to change some of my other religious beliefs. I happily work with and serve all customers, but I can’t and won’t let the state force me to express messages that contradict my beliefs.”

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom

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